Jamie Sharper spent five seasons with the Ravens and helped form one of the greatest linebacker trios in NFL history alongside Peter Boulware and Ray Lewis.
In 2003 and 2004 with the Houston Texans, he led the league in tackles with 305 and finished a nine-year career with 879. He only missed eight games his entire career, including a streak of 136 straight regular-season games played.
On Sunday afternoons, Sharper, 46, still watches the Ravens, even though he is the defensive line coach at Georgetown. While some have already soured on Ravens second-year inside linebacker Patrick Queen, Sharper has been impressed.
“He is a great athlete,” said Sharper, who returned to Baltimore for Georgetown’s game against Morgan State on Saturday. “He is making some plays and he plays fast because he is a good athlete. He is actually playing faster than his keys are showing, which is why he is out of step sometimes.
“But you can definitely build and win with him. He is physical, young and can run sideline to sideline.”
Queen, the 6-foot, 232-pound first-round draft pick out of LSU in 2020, is in transition. He struggled during the first six games of this season at middle linebacker but has been impressive in the past three playing on the weak side.
His tackles are down, but his overall performance is better. Queen still leads the team in tackles with 47, but has only recorded 13 playing on the weak side. He has gotten more penetration and made several impact plays, including one sack and a forced fumble.
According to Sharper, there is a major difference playing the middle as opposed to the outside. Lewis made those around him better, but weak-side linebackers like Sharper and Bart Scott also made Lewis better.
With Lewis in the middle, they took on the blocks, which allowed Lewis to use his speed to make tackles all over the field. Sharper played weak-side linebacker in Baltimore, but both the weak-side and the middle in Houston. He played all three positions, including strong-side linebacker, at Virginia before the Ravens made him the No. 34 overall pick in the 1997 draft.
“I’ve played everything, and it’s a major adjustment,” Sharper said. “When you’re in the middle and they run at you have to make sure you can take it on right away. When you’re on the weak side, or backside, you always have to stay on the backside of the running back. You can run with a pulling lineman, but you can’t give up the backside because you are the last line of defense on the front seven.
“You are seeing a lot of offenses in the NFL pulling linemen or running misdirections because they want to get linebackers out of position and it only takes one step. You just have to remember the running back will take you to the ball.”
Compared with being in the middle, defending the run is less complex and less physical because weak-side linebackers are usually uncovered. But learning how to play pass defense is more of a challenge, especially with the constant motion and shifts, because the strong side can become the weak side quickly. Outside linebackers have a lot more area to cover, and there is also the concern of rolling coverage to certain outside receivers or channeling action to the slot.
It’s not always fun.
“Dropping to a hook or dropping to the outside [in coverage] will have more effect on him than compared to the run,” Sharper said.
Like most of the fans in Baltimore, Sharper has noticed the missed tackles by Queen this season. Sometimes, that can be a result of Queen getting to the ball carrier too soon and not getting his body under control.
The poor tackling isn’t just a Ravens problem, but one throughout the league.
“During the last three or four years, the fundamentals of teaching how to tackle with the shoulder and breaking down with the feet is being bypassed,” Sharper said. “A lot of time coaches are just looking at the X’s & O’s and putting a guy in certain positions. Then when the athlete can’t tackle in the open field or they whiff, the coach wants to know why. I’ve seen it in college and high school. Everybody also wants to make the big hit.
“[Queen] will get it down. Sometimes you react to what you see and it’s good to be able to get there as fast as possible. But you also have to realize where the lane is or the backside hip pursuit. You have to slow down for a second, make sure your feet are squared up before you dive and try to make a blow-up tackle.”
According to Sharper, Queen is still in the learning process. He says he will become better playing against AFC North teams because he sees them twice a year. The key, says Sharper, is not just learning your defense, but how offenses will attack it.
“You can’t really get to that level until your second or third year,” Sharper said. “When you can figure that out, you will be able to make more plays at your position.”
Moving Queen has helped both the defense and veteran Josh Bynes, who has taken over at middle linebacker. Bynes has made 22 tackles since replacing Queen and has become one of the top vocal leaders on the team. The defense still has some holes on the back end, but the inside and weak-side linebacker positions have become less of a concern for coach John Harbaugh.
“I think he’s really stepped it up,” Harbaugh said of Queen. “He’s playing really well. He’s playing a little more of the WILL position, and I think he’s kind of simplified, in his mind, what his responsibilities are. I’m really happy with the way he’s playing, both versus the run and in the pass drops. Both zone and man coverage — he’s looked good.”
Source: Berkshire mont