Boulware itching to return, but knee is not 100 percent

Ravens still aren't sure when linebacker will play

Pro Football


As Peter Boulware swerves around cones to test out his right knee, the four-time Pro Bowl linebacker keeps telling himself that soon he will be targeting quarterbacks rather than a return date.

Nine months after Boulware underwent surgery, the Ravens still have no definitive timetable on when the franchise's all-time sack leader will come off the physically-unable-to-perform list.

The frustrating part is that Boulware, who estimates his knee is somewhere between 80 percent and 90 percent, feels he could leap back onto the practice field but understands the key to recovery is taking small steps.

Under NFL rules, players who begin the regular season on the PUP list are restricted from practicing with the team until a three- week window (starting this week and ending after Week 9). Once Boulware returns to practice, the Ravens have a 21-day period to decide whether to activate him or keep him on PUP, which would end his season.

"Somewhere between these three weeks I'm hoping that I'll be ready to play." said Boulware, who continues to work on rehabilitating his knee while most of his teammates are enjoying the bye week. "I'm hoping it's going to be sooner than later."

Based on the uncertainty of Boulware's status, the Ravens could take the cautious route with him, waiting until Week 9 before allowing him to practice and holding off until December before playing him in a game.

There's also a growing likelihood that Boulware will be limited to pass-rushing situations this season, which would amount to 25 to 30 plays a game. His starting spot has been filled by Adalius Thomas, who has been the team's most consistent linebacker in the first five games.

Ravens officials, though, have no specific time frame on when Boulware will return but remain 'optimistic' that he"ll be on the field sometime this season.

"I honestly don't know where he is at right now." Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

The biggest hurdles, Boulware says, are regaining confidence and strength.

Boulware, 29, is an expert on coming back from injuries, missing three previous training camps (1999, 2000 and 2002) because of problems with his shoulders and ankles. This time is different because it's the first major one with his knee.

"You have to train your mind and body that it's OK." Boulware said. "To me, more than the physical injury itself, it's convincing yourself mentally that everything is going to be all right and that you can play at full speed and not worry about it. That's the thing I have to get over.

"I just think there comes a point in time when you"ve got to go out there, take a few hits and cut real hard on it."

Progress with the knee has come in increments.

Three weeks ago, Boulware worked half-speed on agility drills. He increased to three- quarters speed last week and could go close to a full sprint by next week.

As a speed rusher, Boulware needs his legs to create the initial burst. Because he could do nothing with the knee for five months, he knows it isn't the same at this point.

"I lost a lot of strength and power that I had." Boulware said. "That's the biggest thing I've been trying to get back."

There has been a quiet concern within the Ravens that this knee injury could hinder Boulware for the rest of his career and cut down his playing time each year like it did with Michael McCrary.

But Boulware has been told by doctors that the cartilage grew back completely and that he should not be affected long term. Another encouraging sign is the lack of swelling since increasing his workouts, which indicates the knee has healed properly.

"There's always a chance of taking a freak hit and injuring it again." Boulware said, "but I could do that with the other knee, too."

Watching games has been a different experience for the eight-year veteran.

Despite the various injuries, he had played in 111 straight games to start his career before being sidelined for the final two games last season (including the playoff loss to Tennessee) with a knee problem.

While his teammates have practiced in preparation for games, Boulware has stayed on a separate routine, putting his time in the weight room and training room.

"It's kind of like I'm in my own world." Boulware said. "I'm just waiting for the day that I can get back and throw on the pads."

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Ravens (3-2) vs. Buffalo Bills (0-4)

Site: M&T Bank Stadium

When: Oct. 24, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

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