FORMER Ravens linebacker Jamie Sharper is finally getting his due respect in Houston. He could some day own this franchise, much like the Ravens are Ray Lewis' team and the Green Bay Packers are Brett Favre's team.
Hmmm. Jamie Sharper's team. Texans coach Dom Capers likes the way it rolls off the lips.
"The way you really lead in this business is by going out and doing it between the lines," said Capers. "That's how you gain respect. That's what leadership is all about, and that's what you see in Jamie. I don't think it's his personality to be vocal and do a lot of talking about what he is going to do. He is more businesslike about doing his job.
"He brought credibility with him, knowing how to prepare and win at the highest level," added Capers. "He's been very productive for us. He's a very popular guy on our team."
He'll be even more popular today when the Ravens play the Texans at Reliant Stadium. It will be Get Reacquainted Day for Sharper, and Get Sharper Day for his old teammates. Houston has the No. 14-ranked defense in the league - No. 11 vs. the pass. The Ravens have the 31st-ranked passing offense in the league, but they are No. 15 in rushing offense.
So, that means the Ravens will try to run, which means Sharper will have a lot of head-on collisions with running back Jamal Lewis.
Is that any way to treat an old friend?
"I still talk to some of the guys, even getting them and some of their families tickets," said Sharper, 28, the Texans' second-leading tackler. "We're still friends, but you know you're going to have to have your best game against them. They know who I am, and I know them. We'll be talking the whole game, me and Jamal, and the Ravens' offensive line. It'll be like practice a couple of years ago."
That's when Sharper was still on Ray Lewis' team. From 1997, when he was one of the Ravens' two second-round draft picks (34th overall), he was always "the other linebacker." Not just behind Lewis, but behind strong-side linebacker Peter Boulware, too.
Lewis was simply better. No question. But on a weekly basis, Sharper outplayed and was more consistent than Boulware. Sharper was always one of the top two or three on the team in tackles every year, along with Lewis and end Michael McCrary. Sharper worked hard to improve as a pass rusher, and became more of an every-down player last season, his last in Baltimore.
And if you look back on the team's Super Bowl run in 2000, there were four players on that defense that turned it up another notch in the postseason. There was Ray Lewis, of course, cornerbacks Duane Starks and Chris McAlister, and Sharper.
"If he were anywhere else, he'd be the star linebacker," former Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe said repeatedly during his last two seasons in Baltimore.
That's why Sharper is one of my all-time favorite Ravens. The guy never, ever complained, not about being tormented by former Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis during his first two seasons in the league, or about being overshadowed by any of his teammates.
Once, Sharper became so irritated at Marvin Lewis during a game that he threw a cup of water in Lewis' face (that's when he started becoming one of my favorites).
You hear about players not complaining, but they sometimes become so disgruntled privately that they start eating away at the team's fiber. But Sharper only cared about winning a championship.
"That's Ray's team. Getting attention or notoriety never bothered me," said Sharper, one of the Ravens' numerous salary-cap casualties during the offseason. "All I ever wanted was a ring. That's what was important to me in Baltimore. That's what is important to me in Houston. I'm proving here what type of player I am, which I had to do coming to a brand new team and a brand new defense. I'm kind of on my own here."
He is not the lone star in this Texas town. There is rookie quarterback and No. 1 overall draft pick David Carr, and then there is Sharper. The next big thing is the retractable roof on the new stadium. Other than that, the Texans are largely a collection of misfits, wannabees, has-beens and salary-cap casualties, some of whom aren't worth the minimum wage, much less the minimum league salary.
But that's what expansion is about, and that's why Sharper is here. He knows the drill. The Ravens were still rebuilding their defense when they drafted him.
His role, though, isn't just confined to defense.
"I've had to make more of a change in the locker room," Sharper said. "We've got a lot of guys on both offense and defense stepping into starting roles every week, and I have to make sure they come ready to play. I have to make sure these guys take a veteran attitude to practice and to games every week.
"We had that same problem in Baltimore, but we brought in some guys with flair, attitude, and it rubbed off on guys like Ray, Pete and myself."
Another adjustment for Sharper has been moving inside. With the Ravens, he played the weak side, and was usually uncovered. In the Texans' scheme, he is one of two inside linebackers in a 3-4 alignment, and he gets to blitz more.
In Houston, he gets a chance for more tackles. In Houston, there is a chance he could take over this team much like Ray Lewis did in Baltimore.
Ahh, Jamie Sharper's team.
Sharper just smiles.