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Old-school Ravens linebackers have an appreciation for new guys | COMMENTARY

Former Ravens Pro Bowl outside linebacker Peter Boulware got excited when his former team selected LSU inside linebacker Patrick Queen in the first round of April’s draft.

And he became happier a day later when the Ravens picked Ohio State linebacker Malik Harrison in the third round. His memory drifted back to 1997 when the Ravens made him the No. 4 overall pick out of Florida State and later took Virginia inside linebacker Jamie Sharper in the second.

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Queen has Boulware buzzing.

“He is super athletic, super good,” said Boulware, now a vice-president of a Toyota dealership in Tallahassee, Florida. “He looks like a Ravens linebacker, fits what has been there in the past. He has the tools, looks like he can get after it.

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“He has to adjust to being professional and to the speed of the game, but as far as the tools and mentality, I think he can become pretty special.”

The Ravens need big things out of both Queen and Harrison. They’ve selected multiple linebackers in other drafts and have had their share of failures such as Antwan Barnes and Prescott Burgess in 2007, Paul Kruger and Jason Phillips in 2009, and Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams in 2017.

But they’ve had success too with Terrell Suggs and Jarret Johnson in 2003, and no tandem was better than Sharper and Boulware, who teamed with Ray Lewis to give the Ravens one of the best linebacking corps in NFL history.

There will be pressure on Queen and Harrison because Boulware and Sharper played on a defense and a team that was building. This Ravens team is already of championship caliber. They just need some linebackers to step in immediately.

“The Ravens went out and got themselves some athletic linebackers, athletic players,” said Sharper, now an assistant football coach at Georgetown University. “Now, they have to ask the veteran guys for help. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or follow a veteran who is doing the right thing. You’ve got to follow them around like a stepchild because this team is already playing at a high level and they want to take that next step.”

Queen was one of the two highest-rated middle linebackers in college last season and finished the 2019 season with 85 tackles, 12 for losses. Harrison led Ohio State in tackles last season with 75 and has good size at 6-feet-3 and 247 pounds. Queen is only 6-feet and 229 pounds but few linebackers, even in the NFL, can run like him.

Both Boulware and Sharper like the idea of them coming to the Ravens at the same time. Sharper and Boulware were roommates in rookie training camp and then lived in Sharper’s townhouse before Boulware got married.

“Jamie was a good guy,” Boulware said. “We didn’t have that competition thing going because we both were focused and had the same goal of wanting to be the best. He wasn’t the type of guy that would take you away from your goal. He was a positive influence on me and hopefully I was on him.”

The Ravens also had some other young linebackers on the team such as Cornell Brown and Tyrell Peters.

“We had a linebacker culture,” Sharper said. “We had so many young guys it was like being back in college, and we all pushed each other. The real competition started after about three years in when we started to play well and we were fighting for playing time on third-down situations. Everybody wanted to be on the field during that time.”

Boulware was selected the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, named to the AFC Pro Bowl squad four times, finished with 403 career tackles and was inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor in 2006. Sharper didn’t get as much recognition as Lewis or Boulware but finished with 882 career tackles and played five seasons with the Ravens before being selected by the Houston Texans in the expansion. He led the NFL in tackles with 164 in 2003.

Both expect Harrison and Queen to face learning curves, but a lot of progress should be made heading into the final quarter of their rookie seasons.

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Boulware played defensive end at Florida State. Not only did he have to learn a new position but a different scheme.

“Early on, we were just holding on to our bootstraps so we wouldn’t get our butts beat by [Pittsburgh quarterback] Kordell Stewart and those boys,” said Sharper, laughing.

“The pro game is very difficult,” Boulware said. “At Florida State we were so loaded with talent that we just put 11 guys out there and got to the ball as fast as we could. The Ravens’ system was much more complex and required you to be disciplined and think on your toes.”

Boulware thought the turning point of that great 2000 Ravens defense came by the end of their rookie season and Sharper thought the Ravens had started to become dominant entering 1999.

Neither had any predictions for the 2020 Ravens but both liked what they saw at the end of 2019. The Ravens had perhaps the best secondary in the league, but a suspect run defense that got run over by the Tennessee Titans in a Divisional playoff loss.

If Queen and Harrison can plug the holes in the middle, then the Ravens have a shot at getting to the Super Bowl.

“The physical talent is there and so is the mentality,” Boulware said. “Toward the end of our first year, we were still floundering a little bit, but once we settled down we figured out that we could be pretty good. My advice to them is to learn how to be professional. You are an NFL player, and this is your full-time job.

“You spend all day perfecting your craft, really all year, from how you train, what you put in your body to preparation,” he said. “What you did in college does not cut it in the NFL. Guys who stay around long are the ones who are grounded. They don’t get caught up in the flash or the money, but they put a lot into the game, and they are successful in getting a lot out of it.”

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