Boulware cashes in at expense of QBs

Ravens: The sack specialist uses an array of moves to make quarterbacks miserable.

Pro Football

September 22, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Unbeknownst to the hulking 300-plus blocker staring a couple feet ahead of him, Peter Boulware has declared checkmate as soon as the ball is snapped.

The Ravens' sack master spots the offensive tackle immediately cheating to the outside in anticipation of another patented speed rush. At that moment, Boulware knows he is in his opponent's head and the game is over.

Unleashing a spin move, Boulware comes underneath the out-of-position blocker and creates a clear path to the quarterback. The rest is Ravens sack history.

Throughout his six-year career, the 255-pound Boulware has proved savvy can conquer size.

"Pass rushing is like playing chess," said Boulware, who established a team mark with 15 sacks last season and leads the winless Ravens (0-2) with two sacks.

"People don't realize your first three or five moves are setting up a move down the road. Hopefully, by the end of the game, the offensive tackle doesn't know what you're doing next."

Those deceptions are varied yet limited. Boulware's repertoire consists of three moves: a speed rush, a power bull rush and a spin move.

But it's not how many moves that counts. It's how the rusher uses them.

The speed rush opens up the bull rush. The bull rush opens up the spin move. And the spin move opens up the speed rush.

After the first couple of series, Boulware wants to feel like he's the one on the offensive.

In the mind of last year's AFC sack king, reigning in the trenches is more psychological than physical.

"A fastball pitcher can throw a changeup and make you look foolish because you got to be worried about his fastball," said Ravens defensive line coach Rex Ryan, who works with Boulware on his pass-rushing skills. "I think that's the same thing with Peter. You're worried so much about his speed that when he does throw power on you, he can be effective."

While inside linebacker Ray Lewis is the Ravens' premier playmaker, Boulware is their third-down terror.

Of his 17 sacks since the start of the 2001 season, nine have ended drives. All but two series in which he recorded sacks resulted in no points.

The Ravens made it clear this year they wanted to build their defense around Boulware and Lewis, locking up Boulware to a seven-year, $42 million contract ($13.5 million signing bonus) a month after doing the same with Lewis (seven years, $49.5 million, $19 million signing bonus).

"If you talk to defensive coaches like Tony Dungy or Herman Edwards, the first way to affect an offense is to pressure the quarterback," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' senior vice president of football operations. "That's what Peter allows us to do. And he should be just getting into his prime."

Said Lewis: "Peter is elusive. He's probably one of if not the top passer rusher in the game. He's earned that."

Boulware, 27, sits atop the franchise's all-time sack list yet still doesn't have a permanent home on the defense.

The Ravens switched to a 3-4 defense mainly to capitalize on Boulware's rushing ability as an outside linebacker. But Boulware will move to defensive end in passing situations as well as some running downs.

"Peter Boulware is what you would call an interesting football player," Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden said. "You've got to be conscious of Boulware at all times."

Studying the QB

Boulware doesn't study film. He studies the quarterback.

Not a fan of dissecting schemes and tendencies, Boulware focuses on his target in the pocket.

If the quarterback favors a seven-step drop-back, Boulware likely will opt for more speed rushes and take the offensive tackle upfield. If the quarterback tends to set short and get rid of the ball quickly, Boulware realizes he has to attack with more inside moves.

The next step is breaking down the offensive tackle. Boulware takes notice of the blocker's feet, hand placement, speed and strength and then decides the best way to maneuver around him.

"Once you figure that out," Boulware said, "you add those things together and try to put together a successful pass rush."

After the game plan is devised, Boulware can let his natural ability take over.

His quickness is overwhelming at times. He can flat-out burn tackles with one of the quickest first steps in the league.

His legs provide a devastating burst. Using that lower-body strength, he has the power to explode off the line and into the blocker.

But his most underappreciated talent cannot be measured on a stopwatch or in the weight room.

"He's got good determination," said Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. "He sticks with his rushes and doesn't quit on them. In getting quarterback sacks, they don't always come nice and clean. A lot of times it's the second effort that gets you the sack."

Walking contradiction

Boulware's life appears to be a contradiction.

In his spare time, it's not unusual to see him reading the Bible or wearing a gray T-shirt that reads "Property of Jesus." Then on Sundays, he's clawing past blockers and driving quarterbacks into the dirt.

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