As skills flicker, Boulware `passing the torch'

Ravens & Nfl

November 23, 2005|By BRENT JONES | BRENT JONES,SUN REPORTER

There was a sack parade Sunday, one that went on without its grand marshal.

Peter Boulware, the Ravens' all-time leader in sacks (69), was shut out of the team's season-high six takedowns of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox in the 16-13 overtime win at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Ravens beating and battering a quarterback without a major influence from Boulware would have been improbable just a few years ago, but age and injuries have reduced Boulware, 30, one of the league's fiercest rushers during his prime, to a situational player.

Boulware, who has 12 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks this season and remains a major part of the Ravens' pass-rushing packages, is handling his absence from the limelight as best he can.

"Sometimes it's a little tough. But one thing I've learned about the NFL, it's going to happen to everybody," Boulware said. "Everybody in this game, I don't care how good you are or if you're even going to go into the Hall of Fame, eventually you're not going to be the player that you were because of age and injuries.

"And that's just something I'm going to have to accept, that it's my time. I've been in the league nine years, and it's my time to start passing the torch off to somebody else and let them have it."

As it stands, Boulware is passing the torch to multiple players in the Ravens' high-pressure defense. Adalius Thomas leads the team with four sacks, with fellow linebackers Tommy Polley and Bart Scott combining for six.

Sack assists do not exist in football, but if there were such a statistic, Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan believes Boulware would be up there for the team lead. Coaches have asked Boulware to occupy offensive linemen so linebackers or safeties can have free runs at quarterbacks on blitzes.

It is not by coincidence that Polley, Thomas and Scott are on pace for career years rushing the passer.

"It's tough to see him not be the superstar, the elite pass rusher in this league," Ryan said of Boulware. "But he's still very effective. He is so unselfish, and I think everybody feeds off that. We're asking Peter Boulware to do things that you don't normally ask a guy who has had the background he's had."

Boulware still plays about 15 snaps a game, with fewer chances to line up on one end with Terrell Suggs on the other and charge up the field. The Ravens, under Ryan, are relying on quantity to rush the passer, so Suggs' sack total is down as well.

Suggs has two sacks this season, a number that may hurt in his bid for a second straight Pro Bowl berth. Suggs does have nine quarterback hits.

"We're doing a lot of things different schematically," Suggs said. "Whereas when me and Pete first got together, they were just like letting me and Pete go get [the quarterback]. But with the personnel and the talent we've got, it's taken the pressure off me and Pete and let other people rush."

The Ravens will get another pass rusher next year with the return of Dan Cody, the team's second-round draft pick this year who was lost for the season after a knee injury in training camp. Cody's rehabilitation is on schedule, which could cloud the future for Boulware.

Boulware was released in February before signing a five-year contract in August after Cody's injury. Boulware's base salary of $700,000 triples next season, meaning the Ravens likely will restructure or release a cornerstone of their franchise at the end of the season.

But time for those decisions is still a while away. Though he is financially stable and owns a car dealership in Tallahassee, Fla., Boulware wants to play beyond this season. He has no regrets about coming back to the Ravens.

"I love being out here," Boulware said. "I love playing the game. I could easily be home selling cars, but I want to play football until I can't play it anymore, until I just have to leave. That's really why I am here. Yeah, we're [3-7], but the alternative to me is home, and I don't want to be there."

Notes -- Former Ravens majority owner Art Modell is one of the 25 semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2006. ... Kicker Matt Stover, whose 44-yard overtime field goal beat the Steelers on Sunday, will be named the NFL's special teams Player of the Week today.

brent.jones@baltsun.com

Ravens@Bengals Sunday, 1 p.m., Ch. 13, 1300 AM, 102.7 FM Line: Bengals by 9

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