Something old, new greet Sharpe

Tough defense familiar, but Heap a fresh factor

October 01, 2002|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Denver's Shannon Sharpe returned to Baltimore expecting to see the same Ravens team, even though the lineup, and the names and faces in it, had changed significantly.

And in last night's 34-23 Ravens victory, Sharpe saw a team that mirrored the one he left last year when a salary cap purge sent him back to Denver.

There was the bludgeoning defensive play of Ray Lewis, his close friend, who had an interception among his other stellar efforts. Sharpe also became reacquainted with the pass defense he once practiced against, having a first-half pass to him batted down by Chris McAlister, and another, in the second half, disrupted by Peter Boulware.

And then there was the punishing running of Jamal Lewis.

And even on a bad night for his visiting Broncos (3-1), with whom Sharpe won back-to-back Super Bowl titles earlier in his career, the 13-year veteran had to appreciate the sometimes brutal similarities to the Ravens' 2000 Super Bowl championship team he once played on.

"I knew Brian Billick would have them ready, and I knew Ray Lewis would have that defense ready to play," said Sharpe, who was one of the last three Denver players to enter the locker room after finishing with 75 yards on nine receptions, three of which went for first downs.

"Peter Boulware had 16 sacks [15 actually] last year, and I'm not surprised with the way Chris McAlister played. Those are two Pro Bowl-type of players."

But Sharpe also saw something new last night, something he helped to create as the former mentor of second-year Ravens tight end Todd Heap. And after watching Heap have a career night while he and his team faltered, Sharpe realized he may have created a monster.

"I knew he was going to be this type of football player, the way he was always asking me questions, the way he practiced," said Sharpe, who ranks first among NFL tight ends in all-time receiving yards with 8,762 and is third in career touchdowns with 51.

"It was always why'd you run the route like that, why'd you do that? How can you tell so quickly the kind of coverage they're in? The guy wants to be good. He's a Pro Bowl player. He showed what kind of player he is on a national stage, and I'm proud of him."

In the first half alone, Heap had five receptions for 84 yards, including leaping grabs for touchdowns of 3 and 23 yards. Sharpe recognized the athleticism with which Heap victimized defenders Kenoy Kennedy and rookie Sam Brandon on his scoring catches.

There was also Heap's leap for a 16-yard reception on first-and-20 at Denver's 23, which set up Jamal Lewis' 2-yard run two plays later.

"The route running, catching the football - I always told him that when a defender's between you and the ball, you have to go up. He's in a system and he's with a coach who is going to give him the opportunity to make plays," Sharpe said.

"I still love these [Ravens], just like I love the guys that I'm playing with in Denver," he added. "It's the same type of play I was used to when I was here. I have no hard feeling for them. I had fun when I was here. I wish them well."

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