- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 22, 2003

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — When Shannon Sharpe watches film of Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap, he’s sees a striking resemblance.

“I see myself,” Sharpe said. “It’s amazing how the guys [teammates] turn and look at me and say, ‘He got that from you, didn’t he?’ He’s playing phenomenal. He makes the big-time catch, he’s great in traffic and he wants to be good. I told him, ‘The easiest thing you’ll ever do is make it to one Pro Bowl. If you want to impress people, you’ll go back year after year.”

Heap earned his first Pro Bowl appearance last season in his second NFL campaign. After six games in 2003, he appears likely to have another February date in Honolulu.

On Sunday at M&T; Bank Stadium, Heap and Sharpe will be able to compare talents in what can be billed as “Teacher vs. Student Part II” when the Denver Broncos (5-2) visit the Ravens (3-3).

Last season the two led their respective teams in receiving as Baltimore spanked the Broncos 34-23 in a Monday night game in the first meeting between these former teammates.

So far this season, Heap, 23, is the Ravens’ leading receiver with 24 catches for 291 yards and one touchdown. He led the Ravens Sunday in Baltimore’s disappointing 34-26 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, tying his career high with seven receptions for 129 yards.

“I’m throwing to the best tight end in the country, a guy that’s as athletic and as fast as him,” Ravens rookie quarterback Kyle Boller said. “Whenever you get one-on-one matchups, like I’ve been saying all along, you’ve got to find some way to get him the ball. It showed last week. He can make the plays, and I’ve got to be able to put the ball in the area where he’s got a chance.”

Perhaps it was merely a coincidence, but as soon as Sharpe departed Charm City two years ago as part of the Ravens’ massive salary cap purge, Heap came into his own as the only NFL tight end to lead his team in receptions and touchdowns (68 catches for 836 yards and six TDs).

Last year Heap made the Pro Bowl and Sharpe didn’t. Call it the AFC’s changing of the guard at the tight end position.

“We’re both good tight ends, [but] he’s 35 and I’m 23, so there’s a difference there,” Heap said. “I’m not taking anything away from Shannon — he’s one of the best there is and a guy I’ve looked up to for a long time.”

Sharpe paved the way for Heap to succeed by showing him the intricacies of the position. It was a one-year apprenticeship (2001) in Heap’s rookie season, when he appeared in 12 games and caught 16 passes for 206 yards.

When he eventually retires, Sharpe will undoubtedly be a unanimous first-ballot inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Sharpe’s unparalleled work ethic rubbed off on Heap.

“He taught me a lot and really helped me out, especially going into my second year starting,” Heap said. “I was able to go in and prepare like he prepared, watch how he handled things, and go do those things. I got a lot of the finer points that took him eight, 10, 12 years to figure out. So, that definitely put me ahead of the game.”

Sharpe, who was instrumental in the Ravens’ Super Bowl season three years ago, leads all NFL tight ends this season in receiving yardage with 336 yards and leads all AFC tight ends in receptions with 29.

In his 14th season, Sharpe, the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions (782) and yardage (9,626) for a tight end, shows no signs of slowing down although he doesn’t know how much longer he will keep playing.

After the Ravens’ Super Bowl season (2000), Baltimore selected Heap with the last pick (31st) of the first round in the 2001 NFL Draft. Sharpe, who was still with the Ravens, didn’t see Heap’s selection as meaning his days with the Ravens were over.

“I was very secure of where I was at that stage of my career. I knew I could still play,” Sharpe recalled when the Ravens drafted Heap. “I think it was a great decision. You can’t pass up a guy like Todd Heap — this guy is going to be in the top three or four tight ends as far as catching the football for the next 10 years. So you’d be a fool to pass him up.”

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