Ravens take it slow out of camp

Boulware likely will miss first 5 games recovering from offseason surgery

Return after bye week possible

To avoid injuries, Billick cancels practice as team goes back to Owings Mills

August 25, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

As waves of Ravens players stampeded their way to their cars after the final meeting of training camp, Peter Boulware limped across the parking lot.

When their regular season begins in 18 days, the Ravens are expected -- as they did yesterday -- to move ahead without the franchise's all-time leading pass rusher.

Though team officials haven't made a final determination about Boulware's status, they said all indications point to keeping him on the physically-unable-to-perform list, which would sideline him for at least the first five games of the season.

Boulware, 29, a four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker, has not practiced since undergoing surgery on his right knee this offseason.

"To have a healthier, fresher Peter Boulware coming out of the bye week [after Week 6] could be kind of exciting," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

Since joining the Ravens as the fourth overall pick in the 1997 draft, Boulware has been one of the league's most durable players, fighting through injuries to his shoulders, ankles and knees. He had played in 111 straight games before missing the final two games last season (including the playoff loss to Tennessee) with a knee injury.

But this battle back has become Boulware's toughest challenge.

"With the shoulders and ankles, I kind of knew it was three weeks or a month and I'd be ready. This is one of those things that I can't give you a day and the doc can't give me a day," Boulware said. "It's frustrating because I know the end is in sight; I just don't know exactly when it is. I'm just getting out there each day and believing I'm closer and closer."

Under NFL rules, players who begin the regular season on the physically-unable-to-perform list (PUP) are restricted from practicing with the team until a three-week window (after Week 6 and through Week 9).

Once that player returns to practice, the team has a 21-day period to decide whether to activate him, release him or keep him on PUP for the rest of the season.

Boulware's starting linebacker spot is being filled by Adalius Thomas, and his role as a rush end on passing situations likely will be split between Thomas and rookie Roderick Green.

Boulware, who can put his full weight on his right leg and jog lightly, said he knows he will be able to come back when he can run and cut to change direction.

When he returns, he is expected to be limited to a pass-rushing specialist. His goal, though, is to become an every-down linebacker again this season.

"The trick of this rehab: Try to not go out there and push it too hard," Boulware said. "If I wanted to, I probably could go out there and sprint real fast. But my knee will end up swelling and it'll set me back three or four weeks. So, I'm trying to get myself in shape and get strong while not trying to re-injure new cartilage. It's a balancing act and it's kind of delicate."

Boulware is part of a growing crowd of 13 players on the sidelines these days.

Injuries sustained in camp have ranged from semi-major -- center Mike Flynn (broken collarbone) and defensive end Marques Douglas (dislocated elbow) are out several weeks -- to nagging ones that have kept players out of practice for the first part of this week.

After Flynn went down Monday, Billick abruptly canceled yesterday's practice, choosing to close camp with meetings rather than another workout.

"Anytime you put a player out on the field, you put them at risk, so you have to be careful about doing that," Billick said. "I didn't think what we would get done this morning vs. what we might risk was worth it."

Besides the injuries, Billick declared the four-week stay at Westminster's McDaniel College a success. The Ravens head back to their practice complex in Owings Mills with a good feel of their team, essentially knowing that 51 of the final 53 roster spots are set.

"I feel very good about what we've accomplished to this point," Billick said. "This camp has gone very well, probably as well as any camp we've had."

The main issues as camp ended were:

The Ravens' secondary should look drastically different next week.

Starting cornerback Chris McAlister and nickel back Deion Sanders are expected to report to the team for the final week of the preseason.

When talking about a recent conversation with Sanders, Billick spoke in a confident tone about the possibility of the 37-year-old defender ending his retirement to play for the Ravens.

"I'm excited about his perspective and where he was at mentally with it," Billick said. "He has put a lot of thought into this. That very much impressed me and sold me on the fact that this has some real validity to it."

The Ravens would have preferred McAlister to show up this week but could deal with his absence as long as it doesn't extend beyond next week. McAlister skipped all of camp to protest being named the franchise player for the second straight season.

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