The doctors told Peter Boulware that he could delay his shoulder surgery until after playing in the Pro Bowl and return fully recovered by training camp. That is, if his rehabilitation went perfect.
But the road back for the Ravens' outside linebacker has included one speed bump, which has caused a slower climb back and has validated the team's second-guessing.
Boulware has complained of biceps tendinitis in his right arm the past six weeks, a complication stemming from his arthroscopic surgery, and has had to limit his weight lifting. With a month left before the start of camp, Boulware estimates that his right shoulder is at 70 percent, though still believes he will start in the Ravens' season opener at Pittsburgh on Sept. 3.
The Ravens urged him to have the long-awaited operation immediately after the season in early January. Boulware, however, chose to undergo surgery a month later on Feb. 9, three days after playing in his second straight Pro Bowl.
So, would Boulware have decided differently now?
"Not really," he said. "I'd probably do the same thing.
"It's one of those things, growing up, that's your dream besides playing in the Super Bowl. It's an honor, especially with what I had to go through with my shoulder. On top of that, a lot of people were saying that I wasn't going to make it through the season. And I got to say, 'You know what: Not only did I make it, I also got to go to the Pro Bowl.'"
Boulware, who originally hurt his shoulder two seasons ago and injured it again in a June minicamp last summer, earned that trip to the Pro Bowl with basically one arm, playing with a harness that restricted his mobility to handshake level.
He endured his shoulder popping out of joint four times last season to finish second on the Ravens with 10 sacks and lead them with three forced fumbles. But he produced all of his sacks in the first 11 games before wearing down over the season's final month. He also admitted to shying away during some plays to protect his shoulder.
"It's one of those deals where it's Peter's body," coach Brian Billick said. "So, it's his right to do with it what he sees fit. Given the nature and the history of the injury, the more time you have, the better. That's just flat common sense."
The normal timetable for this type of rehabilitation is four to five months, unless a problem surfaces. The Ravens contend that the extra month would have provided insurance for his recent soreness and put him further along by the start of training camp.
"If he would have had it done then [in January], we wouldn't be having this discussion right now -- it's a good strong possibility," team trainer Bill Tessendorf said. "If you do it in February, you have five months. That's the ideal situation. If we get a little setback, which just happened, the return date gets moved back."
The Ravens expect Boulware to snap on a helmet for the first time this season when training camp opens July 24. His participation in drills will be determined by his improvement over the next few weeks.
The surgery corrected the structural problem in his shoulder, but Boulware lacks the same strength from last year. After spending this week in Tallahassee, Fla., he will return to the Owings Mills training complex to continue to rebuild the power in his arm.
During training camp, he will focus on regaining his timing and familiarity with his teammates while putting his shoulder at minimal risk.
In a schedule similar to last year, the Ravens' 1997 first-round pick probably will sit out the first three preseason games and see brief action in the final one.
Still, it's not definite that Boulware will start the season opener at this point.
"There's nothing guaranteed," Tessendorf said.
Yet Boulware remains confident.
He's proved his toughness before, playing the past two seasons in pain. He's proved his resiliency, too, racking up 30 sacks in 48 games while never missing a game as a professional.
Now, it's about proving the decision he made four months ago was the correct one.
"I think I've made some good progress with it," Boulware said of the shoulder. "But it's one of these injuries that you can't rush it. You just have to wait and let it heal itself basically."
July 23: Players report to training camp at Western Maryland College in Westminster.
July 24: First practice of training camp.
July 28: , Scrimmage vs. Washington Redskins at FedEx Field.
July 29: Intrasquad scrimmage at Western Maryland College.
Aug. 5: Preseason game vs. Philadelphia Eagles at PSINet Stadium.