The Ravens' Peter Boulware can't wait to put his hand down in the dirt, push off and go after the quarterback. He wants to hear the sound of pads crashing and feel the air leaving the body of a quarterback he just sacked.
And if the home crowd goes wild tomorrow night at M&T; Bank Stadium, Boulware will match its excitement and passion.
It's been nearly 20 months since Boulware played in a game. He missed last season with knee and toe injuries. Tomorrow night, in the Ravens' final preseason game against the Washington Redskins, he might get 10 to 15 plays.
"It's going to be exciting and fun," said Boulware, a former All-Pro outside linebacker and the Ravens' all-time sack leader with 67 1/2 . "I'm getting the opportunity to play again, do what I like doing in front of the home crowd. It's amazing. This is going to be great."
But this won't be the old Boulware, the team's former No. 1 draft pick in 1997 who became an every-down player at outside linebacker the moment he stepped off the plane in Baltimore.
The new Boulware, 30, will play defensive end, serving as a pass-rushing specialist. Because he also has had shoulder surgeries, the Ravens plan to limit his playing time but turn him loose on quarterbacks.
He's a third-down hit man.
"Right now, that may not sound like much, but third down is a critical situation," said Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. "It's a key down which leads to you either staying on the field, or getting off it."
Boulware has no problem with the role. Simply put, he doesn't have a problem with anything these days. In May, he opted to be released by the Ravens instead of taking a pay cut from $6 million to $4 million.
There weren't a lot of teams calling Boulware, but once Ravens rookie outside linebacker Dan Cody went down with a knee injury on the first day of training camp, the Ravens made Boulware an offer to return.
Boulware remembers sitting at home waiting, waiting and waiting for the phone to ring. He thought he might never play again. He eventually signed a five-year contract with the Ravens, one that will pay him $700,000 this year, and jump to $2.1 million in 2006.
"Last year, I thought I'd never get a chance to play again with the knee surgery," Boulware said. "But with the deal I signed, if everything works out, I can finish my career here. That's pretty much the game plan. I can play my role here, and then call it quits.
"During the first part of your career, you take playing for granted, because you've done it your entire life," he said. "Then in just one play, one injury, you're sitting home just like I was. I was sitting home wondering if was ever going to play again. Now every play I play, every practice I go to, I'm just thankful every day that I'm getting the chance to play again."
The Ravens have taken it slow with Boulware, who reported to training camp Aug. 19. His practice pace has increased this week as the Ravens get him ready for the Redskins, but more importantly, the Sept. 11 opener against the Indianapolis Colts.
After each practice, Boulware is in the training room icing down most of his body.
"I think he looks pretty good," Ryan said. "He moves around pretty good, even though I don't think he has all the strength back in his legs. That's probably not from playing football. He has to get into football shape.
"But I've been impressed with the way he moves," Ryan said. "He's going to be like a batter coming back off the disabled list. It might take a few games before he gets the timing back, before he gets back in the groove."
Boulware will play opposite Terrell Suggs, but no one knows exactly where. He could come from the strong side or the weak side.
It's all part of the surprises of the Ryan defense. But the last time Boulware and Suggs started opposite each other, the Ravens had 47 sacks, and the tandem combined for 20 1/2 .
As he progresses, Boulware could see more time as an every-down player. But there's no hurry to rush him, and Boulware isn't going to push the issue.
"The 46 defense gives the outside guys a chance to really get after the quarterback and make plays," Boulware said. "If you're an outside guy, then this is the place to be. As we go along, if I can help out in other situations, then I will. But right now, I want to play on third down just like I've played in the past."
NOTES: Along with the Ravens, the Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks, Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts all reportedly have called to express interest in free-agent defensive tackle Corey Simon. ... The Ravens have re-signed Wade Richey, who had been the team's primary kickoff specialist the past two seasons ... The team announced that it has placed linebacker Cody on injured reserve, which means he will miss his entire rookie season, and has placed running back Musa Smith on the reserve physically-unable-to-perform list, which will keep him out at least the first five games of the season. Wide receiver Ron Bellamy and linebacker Tyson Smith were both waived. Cornerbacks Samari Rolle (knee) and Deion Sanders did not practice. Both are likely to miss tomorrow night's game.
Next for Ravens
Preseason matchup: Washington Redskins (1-2) at Ravens (1-2)
When: Tomorrow, 8 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 45, Comcast SportsNet/1300 AM, 102.7 FM, 1430 AM, 106.7 FM
Line: Ravens by 5