Boulware cashes in at expense of QBs

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Unbeknownst to the hulking 300-plus blocker staring a couple feet ahead of him, Peter Boulware has declared checkmate as soon as the ball is snapped.

The Ravens' sack master spots the offensive tackle immediately cheating to the outside in anticipation of another patented speed rush. At that moment, Boulware knows he is in his opponent's head and the game is over.

Unleashing a spin move, Boulware comes underneath the out-of-position blocker and creates a clear path to the quarterback. The rest is Ravens sack history.

Throughout his six-year career, the 255-pound Boulware has proved savvy can conquer size.

"Pass rushing is like playing chess," said Boulware, who established a team mark with 15 sacks last season and leads the winless Ravens (0-2) with two sacks.

"People don't realize your first three or five moves are setting up a move down the road. Hopefully, by the end of the game, the offensive tackle doesn't know what you're doing next."

Those deceptions are varied yet limited. Boulware's repertoire consists of three moves: a speed rush, a power bull rush and a spin move.

But it's not how many moves that counts. It's how the rusher uses them.

The speed rush opens up the bull rush. The bull rush opens up the spin move. And the spin move opens up the speed rush.

After the first couple of series, Boulware wants to feel like he's the one on the offensive.

In the mind of last year's AFC sack king, reigning in the trenches is more psychological than physical.

"A fastball pitcher can throw a changeup and make you look foolish because you got to be worried about his fastball," said Ravens defensive line coach Rex Ryan, who works with Boulware on his pass-rushing skills. "I think that's the same thing with Peter. You're worried so much about his speed that when he does throw power on you, he can be effective."

While inside linebacker Ray Lewis is the Ravens' premier playmaker, Boulware is their third-down terror.

Of his 17 sacks since the start of the 2001 season, nine have ended drives. All but two series in which he recorded sacks resulted in no points.

The Ravens made it clear this year they wanted to build their defense around Boulware and Lewis, locking up Boulware to a seven-year, $42 million contract ($13.5 million signing bonus) a month after doing the same with Lewis (seven years, $49.5 million, $19 million signing bonus).

"If you talk to defensive coaches like Tony Dungy or Herman Edwards, the first way to affect an offense is to pressure the quarterback," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' senior vice president of football operations. "That's what Peter allows us to do. And he should be just getting into his prime."

Said Lewis: "Peter is elusive. He's probably one of if not the top passer rusher in the game. He's earned that."

Boulware, 27, sits atop the franchise's all-time sack list yet still doesn't have a permanent home on the defense.

The Ravens switched to a 3-4 defense mainly to capitalize on Boulware's rushing ability as an outside linebacker. But Boulware will move to defensive end in passing situations as well as some running downs.

"Peter Boulware is what you would call an interesting football player," Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden said. "You've got to be conscious of Boulware at all times."

Studying the QB

Boulware doesn't study film. He studies the quarterback.

Not a fan of dissecting schemes and tendencies, Boulware focuses on his target in the pocket.

If the quarterback favors a seven-step drop-back, Boulware likely will opt for more speed rushes and take the offensive tackle upfield. If the quarterback tends to set short and get rid of the ball quickly, Boulware realizes he has to attack with more inside moves.

The next step is breaking down the offensive tackle. Boulware takes notice of the blocker's feet, hand placement, speed and strength and then decides the best way to maneuver around him.

"Once you figure that out," Boulware said, "you add those things together and try to put together a successful pass rush."

After the game plan is devised, Boulware can let his natural ability take over.

His quickness is overwhelming at times. He can flat-out burn tackles with one of the quickest first steps in the league.

His legs provide a devastating burst. Using that lower-body strength, he has the power to explode off the line and into the blocker.

But his most underappreciated talent cannot be measured on a stopwatch or in the weight room.

"He's got good determination," said Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. "He sticks with his rushes and doesn't quit on them. In getting quarterback sacks, they don't always come nice and clean. A lot of times it's the second effort that gets you the sack."

Walking contradiction

Boulware's life appears to be a contradiction.

In his spare time, it's not unusual to see him reading the Bible or wearing a gray T-shirt that reads "Property of Jesus." Then on Sundays, he's clawing past blockers and driving quarterbacks into the dirt.

Boulware doesn't need to separate these two passions. On game days, he draws inspiration from the biblical battles of David and Samson.

"When those guys went to war, they went to war. They didn't hold any punches," Boulware said. "Christianity doesn't limit you to being nice or gentle or soft. Christianity says I've given you an ability to go out there to do something and you do it to the best of your ability. The Bible talks about being a warrior, being a conqueror and being a victor. You can love God and be a Christian. But at the same time, you can be powerful and successful."

His faith has never squelched his fighting spirit. A team official said Boulware probably would lead the franchise in personal fouls if the Ravens kept such a record.

"He has a competitive streak about him. When you see somebody doing something wrong to him, he reacts like that," said Newsome, snapping his fingers. "When people think you're a nice guy, they think they can push you around. Peter doesn't want to be pushed around."

Playing with pain

Turning the pass rush into a mind game didn't come from maturity. It came out of pain.

He was limited to playing with one arm for the better part of two seasons because of constant shoulder problems. In 1999, he dislocated his right shoulder and played the entire season with a harness.

His right arm dangled to his side like a handbag. He frequently felt his shoulder pop out, and doctors would have to push it back into place. Despite the injury, he racked up 10 sacks.

The next season, he was never fully recovered from offseason shoulder surgery but remained a major player in the Ravens' record-setting defense that led the team to a Super Bowl title.

"I think that's where a lot of my mental game came from," Boulware said. "Before I got hurt, I relied on my speed and my physical ability. Once my shoulder was taken away, my game had to switch. I didn't have the physical ability to beat people. You're going to have to get your edge by knowing your opponent better, knowing how to play better, knowing your technique better.

"Now, I'm glad I went through that. I wouldn't be here today, doing the things I'm doing, if I didn't go through the tough times."

With the shoulder problems behind Boulware, the Ravens believe he can take his game a notch higher with more work in the weight room.

"He's starting now to take that speed and turn it into power," Newsome said. "Once he can get that as part of his repertoire, he'll be an even better rusher. People will be setting soft on him because of the speed and he can turn that into power and drive them right back into the quarterback."

His edge

To truly appreciate Boulware, one must go one-on-one with him.

"He has such incredible speed, power, leverage coming off the edge like the great ones do," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "The hardest thing is to simulate that in practice. A guy is only going to get his first real look at it in a game."

For those who have not faced Boulware, it's hard to be in awe of him despite his 54 sacks in 82 games.

Since being drafted fourth overall in 1997, he always has fought the notions that he was too small or too hurt or too mild-mannered. But Boulware won't argue with those assessments.

In Boulware's head, if blockers don't fear him, they're simply his pawns.

"To me, that's the way I want people to think about me," Boulware said. "That's where my edge comes. Yeah, I am a little too small, so please underestimate me and please don't prepare hard against me. Then, I'm going to line up and win."

Next for Ravens

Opponent:Denver Broncos

Site:Ravens Stadium

When:Sept. 30, 9 p.m.

TV/Radio:Chs. 2, 7/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Series: Tied 1-1.

Last meeting:Ravens won, 20-13, on Sept. 30, 2001, at Denver.

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