Bernard Pollard never gets tired of watching Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin punish defensive backs with stiff-arms violent enough to cause whiplash.
Unusually powerful and intimidating for a skill position player, Boldin delivered a devastating shoulder block to San Diego Chargers free safety Eric Weddle to spring running back Ray Rice on his fourth-and-29 conversion during the Ravens' 16-13 overtime victory in late November. The impact of the blow left Weddle woozy with a concussion when Boldin blindsided him.
Boldin is about 220 pounds of bad news for defenders, with trademark toughness, body control, sound hands and precise routes to overcome his lack of speed.
"Anquan is one of the most physical players in the game that I've ever seen," said Pollard, a strong safety who earned the nickname, "The Bonecrusher," for his hard-hitting ability. "Anquan is a guy who's respected by so many. He's a guy who will tussle with you. I love the way he plays."
Heading into Sunday's wild-card round game against the Indianapolis Colts at M&T Bank Stadium, Boldin's gritty style is something the Ravens have grown accustomed to using as an edge over smaller defensive backs.
It's a blue-collar approach to the game that Boldin first embraced as an all-state all-purpose quarterback growing up in Pahokee, Fla.
"I refuse to be the guy that's taking the punishment," Boldin said. "I'd rather be the guy dishing it out."
During the 2008 season, when he was a member of the Arizona Cardinals, Boldin absorbed a crushing hit from New York Jets safety Eric Smith in which the wide receiver was knocked unconscious and suffered a fractured facial bone. Just three weeks after undergoing surgery to repair the damage in October, Boldin was back on the field and caught nine passes for 63 yards and two touchdowns against the Carolina Panthers.
Few receivers in recent NFL history — with the exception of former Pittsburgh Steelers standout Hines Ward, who was known for his nasty style — have played the game with an edginess to rival Boldin.
"In my generation as far as offensive players that we're just talking about pure respect that you had for them as a defensive player, Anquan Boldin is right at the top of the list," said former NFL safety John Lynch, a Fox television analyst. "He reminds me of Hines Ward because you see him knocking people out on blocks and making the big catches in big games. I have so much respect for him because he plays the game the way I believe it should be played."
Boldin led the Ravens with 65 receptions for 921 yards and four touchdowns during the regular season despite not possessing conventional speed.
At the NFL scouting combine in 2003 coming out of Florida State, Boldin ran the 40-yard dash in a pedestrian 4.72 seconds. The time hasn't prevented Boldin from using positioning and crisp pass patterns to get open and make catches. Boldin had at least 1,000 yards receiving in five seasons with the Cardinals, and he caught more than 100 passes twice.
Boldin excels at setting up a defensive back with a head fake, a jab step or a timely shove to throw the player off guard, muscling them for position.
"I think when guys understand what they're trying to get done and understand their assignments, they play a lot faster than a guy who is hesitant," Boldin said. "I don't think my speed has ever hurt me. I've always been able to accomplish whatever I needed to."
Boldin built up his leg strength while growing up in Pahokee, running on the famed "Muck," a stretch of thick black sand where NFL players Rickey Jackson, Fred Taylor and Santonio Holmes also trained.
Boldin also devotes himself to resistance training in the offseason, using elastic bands to improve his ability to break through tackles.
"Most of it's just natural, but I also put in a lot of hard work," said Boldin, who was named the Ravens' Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year on Friday for his charity involvement. "You've got to pay the price."
For his career, the three-time Pro Bowl selection has 772 receptions for 10,165 yards and 58 touchdowns.
"He just has a knack," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He's very strong, has great hands, great body control, great knowledge of the game, incredibly tough, hard-nosed guy."
In a locker room populated by many legitimate tough guys, Ravens offensive tackle Michael Oher ranked Boldin among the top three on the roster. That elite group includes fullback Vonta Leach and offensive guard Marshal Yanda.
Boldin is a man of few words, preferring to go about his work without seeking the spotlight.
"Anquan's a quiet leader," Leach said. "He don't say much. I've never seen him do an interview. He just goes about his business. He's a tough guy who cares about the game more than people talking about him."
Even if Boldin appears covered, quarterback Joe Flacco is confident throwing the football in his direction because he knows that he'll outmuscle the man who's guarding him.
"That's just how I play," Boldin said. "I've always played that way. I look at pass catching like playing basketball. I love blocking, catching and running after the catch. That's just being a football player."
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