`Shock' greets news on Ravens' Sharper

Boulware laments likely loss

M. Lewis finalist in Carolina

January 24, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Ravens players are shaking their heads these days.

Although many are surprised at the possibility that defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis could stay for another season, they are stunned by the likely departure of outside linebacker Jamie Sharper.

Lewis completed two days of interviews in Charlotte, N.C., for the Carolina Panthers' head coaching vacancy and returned to his Finksburg home yesterday afternoon without a job offer.

According to league sources, Lewis is one of two finalists for the position, but New York Giants defensive coordinator John Fox remains the front-runner. A decision could be reached today.

"As far as I know, it [the interview] went pretty well," Lewis said.

Meanwhile, Ravens linebacker Peter Boulware spoke in disbelief about Tuesday's reports that Sharper would be placed on the expansion list.

It is believed that the Houston Texans, who begin play next season, will select the Ravens' second-leading tackler in their expansion draft Feb. 18. If taken, the Texans will assume Sharper's $3.8 million salary cap number from the strapped Ravens, who are $20.5 million over next season's cap.

"It comes as a complete shock," said Boulware, who has been teammates with Sharper for five seasons. "With Ray [Lewis], Jamie and myself at linebacker, that's one of the main reasons why our defense has been so successful. When you think of the Ravens, you think of their linebackers. The possibility of losing him would be detrimental to our defense."

The NFL will make public each team's list of five unprotected players tomorrow. Teams can lose a maximum of two players to the Texans in February's draft.

Sharper, who has emerged as one of the best weak-side linebackers in the game, could become the second defensive starter to leave the Ravens, joining retired defensive tackle Tony Siragusa. This season, Sharper recorded a career-best 135 tackles and finished with six sacks and 12 passes broken up.

"It's hard," Ray Lewis said. "When you play with someone for so long, you don't want them to leave. It's disappointing, but you just have to roll with it."

The Ravens could lose up to half of their starters on defense. That impact would be lessened if Marvin Lewis returns for his seventh year as defensive coordinator.

The Ravens have finished as the league's second-ranked defense each of the past three seasons. This season, Lewis helped the defense lead the league in fewest yards per play despite being without five starters for at least one game.

"Anytime you lose a lot of guys in the off-season, it helps not to lose any coaches as well," Boulware said. "Being in the league for five years, change is part of the game. The team that knows how to adjust the best is going to win. We're not trying to fool ourselves that we can hold onto the best players and the best coaches. Something has to happen eventually."

One of the NFL's most respected assistant coaches, Lewis, 43, was the final candidate to interview with Carolina. Yesterday, he spent four hours at the home of Panthers owner Jerry Richardson.

Panthers officials will meet to discuss the coaching situation today. The club is in the 17th day of its coaching search since firing coach George Seifert on Jan. 7.

"They wanted to get together and put all their thoughts together," Lewis said. "And then Jerry will make a decision in what direction he wants to take."

If Lewis is not picked by the Panthers, there may be only one other chance at a head-coaching job this season. Tampa Bay Buccaneers officials confirmed yesterday they are interested in Lewis, but they have not formally requested to talk to him.

"It's amazing that we still have him, and I would hate to see him leave," Boulware said. "But he's done what Brian [Billick] did a few years ago [as a coordinator with Minnesota]. Brian set all those offensive records, and he was hired immediately by the Ravens. Marvin's done the same thing on defense, and he hasn't been hired."

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