Lewis not the only productive LB on Baltimore's defense
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) -- Peter Boulware and Jamie Sharper probably would be big-name players on almost any team. On the Baltimore Ravens, they're just the other guys playing linebacker on either side of Ray Lewis.
Boulware, the NFL defensive rookie of the year in 1997, has been to two Pro Bowls. Sharper had nine tackles, two sacks and an interception in last week's 16-3 rout of Oakland in the AFC Championship Game.
But everyone wants to talk about Lewis, the NFL defensive player of the year and the game's best middle linebacker.
"When you have a guy as good as Ray, you're going to get overlooked," Baltimore head coach Brian Billick said. "Pete plays two positions for us. He's a linebacker who can drop in coverage, and he gets down in a three-point stance and rushes the passer as good as anybody I know.
"Jamie has done nothing but gotten better and better. His performance last week is the main reason we're in the Super Bowl."
Boulware and Sharper are alike in several ways. Both are 26 and products of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Boulware with Florida State and Sharper with Virginia. Both got their college degree, although it doesn't take a genius to know why Lewis gets most of the exposure.
"We follow Ray's lead. He's our leader, a big-time player," Boulware said. "It's a privilege for us to be considered in the same category with him since he's probably one of the best linebackers to ever play the game."
Said Sharper: "Ray is the best player on our defense, and he deserves all the credit he receives. But on our defense, everyone is capable of coming up with a big play."
Sharper certainly has had his share over the past two seasons. He ranked second on the Ravens behind Lewis with 122 tackles last year, and this season he was third with 102 tackles. He also forced a team-high five fumbles.
Then came last week, when Sharper recorded Lewis-like numbers in leading the Ravens past the Raiders.
"Playing well in a big game definitely helps you get noticed, whether it's the AFC championship or just the playoffs," Sharper said. "You get a lot more exposure."
The timing couldn't be better for Sharper, who becomes a free agent after this season and will receive a sizable raise, whether it comes from Baltimore or another team.
"If the Ravens can keep me on the team, it's certainly the best fit for me," he said.
Even it means operating in the shadow of Lewis?
"I don't worry about not getting the glory. I realize that I have great players around me," he said.
One of them is Boulware, who had seven tackles in the Ravens' wildcard win over Denver and six more against Tennessee the following week. This season he had seven sacks despite coming back from offseason shoulder surgery.
Together, Lewis, Boulware and Sharper form arguably the finest linebacking crew in the NFL.
"We kind of feed off each other. We know our roles. If I don't make the tackle, I know Ray or Jamie will," Boulware said. "Sometimes you may have to sacrifice yourself so someone else can make a play, but we really don't care as long as someone's making the play."
Usually it's Lewis. He's Smokey Robinson, while Boulware and Sharper are the Miracles.
"If Pete and Jamie were anywhere else, they'd each be the star linebacker," Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe said. "But when you play with Ray, you have to play second fiddle. Jamie has really stepped up in the playoffs and made a name for himself. He has taken his play to a whole new level. Pete has gone to two Pro Bowls. Everyone knows what he can do."
The rest of the league can only hope that Sharper departs, but Boulware has a plan to keep the trio intact.
"Ray and I are going to get Jamie to stay," Boulware said. "We'll tie him to his locker. He's going to stay."