Work in Sports
Return to health for Boulware key to Ravens' success
By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated
WESTMINSTER, Md. -- Here are three burning questions that are still very much in the process of being answered at the Baltimore Ravens' somewhat tranquil training camp at Western Maryland College, where Johnny U. and the Colts once galloped each summer. (Can 30 miles north-northwest of Baltimore really be considered Western Maryland?) Sports Illustrated's Don Banks checks in with them on his tour of NFL training camps:
1. Question: What's the story on linebacker Peter Boulware's slow-going recovery from offseason right shoulder surgery? Any alarms going off?
Answer: Boulware was operated on Feb. 8, after the Pro Bowl, and is now in his sixth month of rehabilitation. He remains on the physically unable to perform list, and continues to work solo on a side field. While this week once looked like the target date for Boulware rejoining the active roster, it's not going to happen and may not take place for a while yet.
Baltimore is playing it very cautious and there's no real reason not to. After Boulware played all season last year in a harness because of a dislocated shoulder, the Ravens are determined that Boulware will make the decision on when he feels ready to get back in pads. By waiting the Ravens figure they increase their chances of seeing the gifted, disruptive, play-making force they've become accustomed to.
As much as he and the Ravens would like him to get sufficient preseason work, neither side will do anything to jeopardize his shot to be ready for opening day, Sept. 3 at Pittsburgh. All other deadlines are artificial and mere window dressing.
Boulware keeps saying he's close to making it back. But he still doesn't have all the strength back in the shoulder and the team isn't about to push it. The Ravens would probably be tickled to see him return in time for the final two preseason games, at Carolina and at the Giants. If his rehab goes much longer than that, and fourth-year veteran Cornell Brown stays in the lineup, Baltimore will have reason to start showing concern.
2. Question: Have the Ravens seen the last of popular defensive tackle Tony Siragusa, or will the holdout arrive in camp one of these days and pronounce himself ready to suit up?
Answer: Only Siragusa really knows for sure, and then maybe that's being presumptuous. Baltimore is scheduled to pay "Goose'' $1.5 million this season. He wants at least $2 million and a contract extension. The two sides have basically danced around each other all offseason, with the Ravens striking a take-it-or-leave-it attitude.
Here's what we know: Baltimore's No. 2-ranked defense could still use Siragusa's run-stuffing talents, especially in the season-opener at Pittsburgh. Siragusa seems to play his best against the Steelers, and the Rams and Ravens were the only two teams in 1999 that didn't allow a 100-yard rusher.
Baltimore has had problems with Siragusa's weight at times in recent years, and there's also the matter of a gimpy knee, which was operated on last season. Siragusa has made noise about retiring, and no one's ruling out the possibility that he's serious. Then again, it would surprise no one if Siragusa is merely saving himself a little wear and tear by missing the first three weeks of training camp or so.
With defensive tackle Larry Webster suspended for the first eight games due to a substance abuse violation, and no Gilbert Brown signing in sight, the Ravens will welcome Siragusa back at any point once he decides to abide by his contract. Baltimore would prefer that comes in time to at least allow Siragusa the preseason finale against the Giants to serve as his lone tuneup. Chances are, the two sides will kiss and make up by then.
Answer: As all concerned parties have said all along, it's Banks' job and Dilfer is the backup. Case closed. Dilfer's a happy camper and has shown no signs of making trouble. While he's not crazy about the role, he has thrown himself into the No. 2 slot and vows to do anything he can to help Banks and the team succeed.
After the rollercoaster ride of his Tampa Bay experience, Dilfer believes he must take a step back in order for his career to take a step forward. And Baltimore might be just the place.
As for Banks, he started last season's final 10 games and went 6-4, helping rally the Ravens to a respectable 8-8 record. He deserves every chance to succeed and all the support in the starting role. Before he stepped up, the Ravens were a quarterbacking mess, with the horrible Scott Mitchell starting the first two games and the limited Stoney Case stepping in for the next four.
Banks is having a decent camp, but still has trouble putting the ball on the ground at times. Dilfer has looked good, but not great. Thus far there are no signs of a coming competition.
If Ravens coach Brian Billick has a quarterback decision on his hands at some point this season, that'll mean things didn't go according to plan. In reality, locking up two starting quarterbacks is the way to go in the league today. It's no longer the aberration, it's the smart money. For proof, see Vinny Testaverde, circa 1999.