From the first draft in 1996 to the offseason workouts now in spring 2012, there has been one constant for the Baltimore Ravens: Ray Lewis, the greatest player in franchise history.
For 16 years now, Lewis has started at middle linebacker for the Ravens. Although he is most known for his fearsome tackling, Lewis has survived nearly two decades in the league by adapting other skills.
Lewis is the only player in NFL history with over 40 sacks and 30 interceptions.
With a NFL record 10 All-Pro selections and an NFL-record 13 Pro Bowl selections, Lewis is a lock to make the Hall of Fame during his first year of eligibility. His level of play has put him in the conversation for best linebacker of all time with players like Dick Butkus, Lawrence Taylor and Jack Lambert.
Even though he is no longer in the prime of his career, Lewis is still invaluable to the Ravens defense. He is the general to their army and no one can motivate the troops like Lewis does with his pregame speeches. His relentless mental preparation and study of the game makes him almost like an on-field defensive coordinator for the Ravens, which makes him absolutely irreplaceable.
The other inside linebacker is undrafted free agent Bart Scott. His story is an inspirational one, as he overcame long odds by making it out of a violent and drug-infested neighborhood in Detroit to the starting lineup of the Ravens defense.
For three years, Scott mostly played on special teams. However he took advantage of Lewis's season-ending injury in 2005 and started 10 games that year. By 2006, Scott was a full-time starter and he responded with a career year, getting 135 tackles, 9.5 sacks and two interceptions.
Like many other Ravens defenders, Scott is known for having a loud mouth and for talking a lot of trash. Unfortunately, he is now a New York Jet and it could be argued that his loud mouth outweighs his playing ability.
But if you take Scott in his prime, only Lewis was better at the middle linebacker position for the Ravens.
Backup: Jameel McClain
This may seem premature, but Jameel McClain has made enormous progress over the last two seasons. The franchise leader in safeties, McClain is basically the epitome of play like a Raven. He shuts his mouth and lets his play do the talking.
McClain took over Lewis's responsibilities as defensive play-caller during the four games Lewis missed in 2011. The results were them going 4-0 over that stretch and McClain definitely was a big part of that.
As he's signed for the next three years, McClain could become even more important to the Ravens should Lewis retire during that time span.