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It is more than sheer coincidence that former Virginia linebacker Jamie Sharper is sharing a locker with ex-Florida State defensive end Peter Boulware.

Boulware is the Ravens' top draft pick. Sharper was the first of two second-round selections. They plan to grow together.

"It will be nice having the ACC represented," said Sharper, who will start at weak-side linebacker, opposite Boulware. "He is playing a new position, so there may be some things I can help him with. Then I'm looking forward to learning from Ray Lewis."

Sharper, 6 feet 2 and 240 pounds, was one of 34 rookies to participate in the opening of a three-day minicamp yesterday. He drew just as much of the coaches' and media's attention as Boulware.

And the Ravens expect him to play as well as he did last year, when he made the All-ACC first team.

"We threw a lot at them and they made some mistakes, but they were aggressive mistakes and that's what we want," said Ravens linebackers coach Maxie Baughan about yesterday's 1 hour and 45-minute practice. "I thought Jamie did well learning where to line up and his other assignments. He picked some things up pretty quickly."

Sharper has to, because the Ravens expect big things out of him this season. As a weak-side linebacker, he will be uncovered and free to make tackles. The Ravens feel Sharper can become the team's leading tackler. He led Virginia with 123 last season, playing a similar position.

"He should lead us in tackles," said Marvin Lewis, the Ravens' defensive coordinator. "More than any other linebacker on the team, he is playing the position he is most familiar with. I think he has a good understanding of football and an awareness of the game."

Sharper says he likes the challenges, especially after not being selected in the first round of the NFL draft last week. He was expected to go in the middle of the first round, the third outside linebacker chosen after teammate James Farrior and Alabama's Dwayne Rudd.

Sharper was chosen after Farrior and Rudd, but not until the 64th pick overall. Rudd also went later than expected, lasting until the 20th selection overall by the Minnesota Vikings.

Green Bay, the defending league champion, had a shot at Sharper with the last pick in the first round, but drafted Iowa offensive tackle Ross Verba instead.

"Very tempting," Ron Wolf, the Packers' general manager, said about Sharper. "Talking about the need thing, he was extremely tempting. But you have to understand that with the way free agency is today, you have to protect yourself on the offensive line. Our position is to take the best player available. If Verba wasn't around, then we would have taken Sharper."

"More teams draft now with the philosophy of taking the best player available," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel. "With free agency the way it is, you can fill your needs through free agency."

Sharper is not extremely disappointed. He'll experience less problems than most rookies in the league. Sharper doesn't have to worry about getting cut or playing second string.

He is an instant starter with a team that needs immediate linebacking help.

"I'm excited because it's an opportunity," said Sharper. "I have a chance to start, and I've got to take hold of it, make the best of the situation. It's an opportunity to work with a lot of young guys with some veterans up front that can help turn things around.

"I look forward to going out there with guys like Ray Lewis and hitting somebody."

NOTES: Newsome said the team will not go after a free-agent fullback and use rookies Steve Lee of Indiana and Southwest Louisiana's Kenyon Cotton instead. The Ravens had been interested in San Francisco 49ers fullback Tommy Vardell, who signed with the Detroit Lions two days ago. One player who instantly turned a few heads yesterday was Tennessee running back Jay Graham, who flashed 4.48 40 speed on the kickoff team.

Pub Date: 4/26/97

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