Boulware feels at home in line of fire

Raven's versatility has allowed him to switch from linebacker to line

Pro Football

January 11, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Every time he assumes a three-point stance, Peter Boulware feels more at home playing defensive end in the NFL. His comfort level at the position could quicken in Sunday's wild-card game in Miami, since his matchup is a continuation of Ravens practices the four previous seasons.

The Dolphins' left tackle is Spencer Folau, who spent five season with the Ravens after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Idaho in 1996. Folau started four games in 2000 and owns a ring from Super Bowl XXXV, but he was let go by the Ravens and picked up by the Dolphins in July. His backup is Harry Swayne, the veteran who was released by the Ravens in August.

"I've gone against Spencer in practice the last few years," Boulware said. "He has quick feet, and matches up well against a guy like me, because I'm a speed guy. He knows me and I know him, and it's going to be a grudge match between the two of us. There isn't going to be any guessing on the first play, because we know how we play. It's a matter of who goes out there and gets it done."

There was no chance that Folau would ever beat out Jonathan Ogden, and his time in Baltimore ended when the Ravens decided to go with an extra guard, Orlando Bobo, instead of an additional tackle. Folau signed with the Dolphins last July, came off the bench in their opener and has been Jay Fiedler's blind-side protection since the second game of the season.

Boulware's versatility, meanwhile, has allowed him to make a seemingly seamless shift from Pro Bowl linebacker to defensive end, where he has ably filled the void left by the knee injury that ended Michael McCrary's season. How good has Boulware been at end? He tied McCrary's team record with four sacks against the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night, and his 15 sacks this season were bettered only by the Giants' Michael Strahan, who set an NFL record with 22.5.

"That's special," said Boulware, who is the AFC Player of the Week. "I can take a lot of pride in that. One of my goals was to have 15 sacks. To lead the AFC in sacks says you're one of the top pass-rushers."

Boulware went to the Pro Bowl in 1998 and '99 as a linebacker, but he brought a clean slate to the position when the Ravens took him with the fourth pick in the 1996 draft. An All-American defensive end at Florida State, the 6-foot-4, 255-pound Boulware was moved to linebacker, and he would still be there if not for McCrary's injury.

"I was pretty much a defensive end my whole life," Boulware said. "Playing linebacker was a mental challenge; defensive end is more physical. A lot of people said, `You can't play defensive end, you're too small.' I heard that a lot, and kind of believed it until I got out there and did it myself. It was a matter of getting confidence and believing I could do it.

"There are a lot of things at defensive end that I'm still learning, like playing the run better. When they start running double teams and bringing the guard and tackle on you, that's tough for me right now. I have to get better at that."

Folau goes 6-5 and 315 pounds. Could Boulware have met that mountainous challenge in recent seasons, when his effectiveness was limited by a series of shoulder injuries?

"I don't think I could have done it [played end] with my shoulders, because you need to use your arms so much," Boulware said. "Thankfully, I was playing linebacker when I was injured."

Fiedler's mobility might be Folau's greatest asset against Boulware.

"You have to be more disciplined," Boulware said of containing the Miami quarterback. "When you play a pocket passer, you take liberties. You can go inside and sometimes lose containment. With a guy like Fiedler, if he doesn't have anything [open] to hit, he's going to run."

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