On Ravens' defensive front, new lineup is taking shape

Thomas goes back to line

injured starters returning

August 18, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The Ravens are shuffling their defensive front seven.

As the preseason begins to wind down, the Ravens hope to welcome back three injured starters -- outside linebacker Peter Boulware (ankle) and defensive ends Michael McCrary (knee) and Tony Weaver (ankle) -- and switch Adalius Thomas from linebacker to lineman.

The team removed Boulware from the physically unable to perform list yesterday and may do the same with McCrary next week. Weaver could return to practice tomorrow.

With all these questions surrounding injuries, the Ravens are trying to find the best solution for Thomas. The return of Boulware, combined with the stellar play of outside linebacker Shannon Taylor, has forced the move of Thomas from linebacker back to defensive end, where he played all last year.

"We need to get our best 11 football players on the field," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "It's not as much as what AD [Thomas] has done as much as Shannon is playing very well, Peter is coming back and we have yet to know for sure where Michael's time frame is. So, there's a lot of variables in there."

Boulware, McCrary and Weaver will miss Friday's preseason game at Philadelphia, but they may play a half-dozen snaps in the preseason finale so they could be ready for the season opener at Carolina on Sept. 8.

Boulware, who had two bone spurs removed from his ankle in June, practiced for the first time since minicamp two months ago. He worked lightly in the noncontact drills and doesn't know when he'll take his first hits of the preseason.

"If I wanted to, I probably could put the pads on [today] and go," said Boulware, who led the AFC with a career-high 15 sacks. "But I want to be smart with it. I don't want to go out there and rush my injury back. If I had to do it, I could do it [today]."

Bypassing camp is actually the norm for Boulware. In his sixth NFL season, he has sat out of four training camps because of a holdout in 1997 and injuries in 1999, 2000 and 2002.

Still, Boulware doesn't endorse skipping camp.

"If you miss camp, coming back the first couple of weeks is going to be tough," Boulware said. "You're going to be behind. A lot of the little things that everybody has learned in the course of camp, I've got to pick up. I've got to work double hard on the field and off the field."

McCrary, who is recovering from a season-ending knee injury, is already trying to play catch-up.

He went full speed his first individual workout of camp and suffered a two-week setback with the knee. Running off to the side yesterday, McCrary intends to return to practice next week.

"I would have preferred to participate in training camp," McCrary said. "But injuries won't allow me to. I'm on a crash course to try to get my conditioning."

The Ravens' other injured defensive end, Weaver, could go hard in two practices this week and then back off the rest of the week because of expected soreness. The team's second-round pick this season, Weaver had been coming on strong before suffering a high ankle sprain on Aug. 5.

"We were hoping he comes back this week, but it depends on his strength," Billick said.

The Ravens added to their defensive transition by having Thomas work with the defensive line for the first time in camp. The team will likely keep stacking five men along its front, but Thomas' role in that scheme is far from being defined.

The Ravens have the option of going with Boulware and Taylor as outside linebackers and using Thomas as one of their three linemen. Or they can have Boulware as the lone outside linebacker and make Thomas one of their four linemen. Or they can give the look of Thomas being a down lineman and, as soon as the ball is snapped, have him drop back like a linebacker.

"The fact that he's in should give people a little bit of a quandary," Billick said. "Is it three-man front or is it a four-man front? How do we treat this guy? Most will treat it like a four-man front and then he has the option to do some of the other things as well."

Next for Ravens

Preseason opponent: Philadelphia Eagles

Site:Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia

When:Friday, 8 p.m.

TV/Radio:Chs. 45, 5/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

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