The midseason consensus from the Ravens' coaching staff is that the real Peter Boulware is just beginning to surface.
Fans got a glimpse and the Washington Redskins got a taste of him Sunday in the Ravens' 20-17 win over the Redskins at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium. That's when Boulware had four tackles, half a sack, one pressure and one hurry.
Boulware was so much of a pain to the Redskins that by the end of the second quarter, he was drawing double- and triple-teams. And he was still banging around quarterback Gus Frerotte.
"Peter had his best game and his career looks promising," said Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda. "He came into the season awfully late and has been learning on the run. He went into what he calls a slump the last two games, but that happens a lot to rookies.
"But after eight games, we're happy with his progress. Sometimes, people just don't realize how tough it is to play in this league."
Boulware does. He was the Ravens' top pick in April's NFL draft, the fourth player taken overall and the highest-rated pass rusher in college football. Boulware held out of training camp for six weeks, but came on the scene in a flash with seven tackles -- including four sacks -- against the Buffalo Bills in the Ravens' final preseason game.
Since then, Boulware has been taken to school, learning the fine points of converting from defensive end at Florida State, where he always had his hand in the dirt, to standing upright playing strong-side linebacker in the NFL.
He is tied for third on the team in tackles with 38 and leads in sacks with 4.5.
"I started out pretty good, slowed a little in the middle, but I'm picking it up again. I believe I will get better and finish the season off strong," said Boulware. "With the time I missed and making the switch, I thought it would be a lot harder. But the biggest transition is that this game requires more mental preparation than what I had to do in college. If you work hard, practice hard, study a lot of film, then you can be successful in this league. If not "
That doesn't seem to be a problem with Boulware. He is usually one of the last players to leave the field, frequently staying to work on pass-rushing techniques with defensive line coach Jacob Burney. He is also a student of the game, relying as much on keys now as pure instinct.
"A lot of guys tense up when they make mistakes; Peter doesn't. Very seldom does he make a mistake twice," said Marvin Lewis, Ravens defensive coordinator.
But Boulware has had his share of problems.
At Florida State, he basically came hard off the corner directly to the ball or occasionally had containment. He either had to beat an offensive tackle or tight end.
At outside linebacker, Boulware has had to become more aware of formations while also being more disciplined. Sometimes, he is asked to take on a pulling guard or fullback while the other VTC linebackers, like Ray Lewis and Jamie Sharper, are supposed to make the play.
"In college, I was always making plays, and here I had to learn that I couldn't always make the big play," said Boulware. "I had to learn about covering a running back out of the backfield and then increase my recognition. In this league, you study all week and learn certain formations, then on Sunday they run the same play but out of a formation you haven't seen.
"I was running, thinking and then reacting. I think I'm at the point where I run and just react. I'm much more comfortable now."
But Marvin Lewis has been criticized for making Boulware do too much thinking. He has lined up Boulware at tackle as well as at middle and outside linebacker.
Why not just put Boulware on the end and let him come hard off the corner like he did against Buffalo? Why not play to his natural strengths of pressuring the quarterback and pursuit?
"That would be fun. That would be anybody's dream at end," said Boulware with a smile.
But Marvin Lewis said: "I would expect Peter to prefer the other situation. Rushing or not, Peter has a lot of athletic ability and diversity. Everyone is trying to get a player like him, and we want to use him to our advantage. Wherever he lines up may or may not be the best situation for him, but it may be the best matchup for another player and our team. We're not here just to have what is best for an individual, we're concerned about winning and losing."
Boulware, though, would prefer to match up on one particular tackle the entire game.
"That way you get to work on him, see what moves work and what doesn't," said Boulware. "That's how you set them up. When you rush sporadically, it's hard to set them up."
Pass rushing is still Boulware's forte. Before the Ravens' game against the Redskins, Boulware's strength was partially neutralized in the last two games by the team's inability to stop the running game, negating third-and-long situations.
But the Redskins were held to 67 yards rushing and Boulware came hard on third down, using his speed, the spin move and that short shoulder dip which are becoming his trademark.
But the Ravens want him to add to his repertoire.
"I'm working on a hump move, where I run the tackle upfield then throw him with my inside arm," said Boulware. "Once they figure out you're a speed guy, tackles will kick back in a soft set and counter that. You need some power."
And in Boulware's case, a little patience.
"In Peter's case, a lot of his strength was coming from his legs," said Burney. "Then sometimes we found out he would give up on the rush too soon. We wanted him to use more hand techniques where he coordinated hand usage with the lower part of his body."
Those problems may have contributed to Boulware's recent "slump" and teams also have become more aware of his presence in the lineup. "Teams are no longer going to give him a free run at the quarterback," said Marvin Lewis.
But with eight more games and the first strong off-season weight program coming up, Boulware should have an even bigger impact next year.
One day, he might even be able to switch back to defensive end if he can add about 15 to 20 pounds.
"I don't know, that's something a lot of guys have tried to do, but without much success," said Marvin Lewis. "I've been more than satisfied with his play at linebacker."
So has Boulware.
"Maybe that will happen, I don't know," said Boulware. "Whatever position I play, I want to play that position at my best. I don't want to play defensive end if I can't have an impact."
NOTES: Middle linebacker Ray Lewis was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week. Against the Redskins, Lewis had a team-high 15 tackles, one sack, an interception and a pass deflection. The team had a crisp, hard workout yesterday, one day after Marchibroda lectured them on not practicing.
Next for Ravens
Opponent: New York Jets
Site: Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Line: Jets by 5
Series: First meeting
Pub Date: 10/31/97