Ray Lewis: Who Will Lead the Ravens When LB Retires?
Considering that Lewis is 37 years old, chances are that time comes sooner rather than later. Whenever that time comes, though, the Ravens do need to be prepared.
Regardless of all the stars on Baltimore's team right now, none come close to matching Lewis' intensity, emotion, passion and leadership. That said, the more familiar faces will need to take their status to another level for the Ravens to remain elite.
Lewis has been on that leadership pedestal by himself for most, if not all, of his career, and it certainly will be difficult for any player on the Ravens to equal his impact. Still, we do have to realize that it's impossible to play forever.
So, let's look at the best potential leaders for the Ravens after Lewis.
Note: All videos are courtesy of NFL.com.
Ray Rice, RB
Ray Rice is easily one of the NFL's best and most complete running backs. He's also the key component to much of the Ravens' offensive success. As a dual-threat back, Rice's relentlessness to run downhill is arguably his best attribute.
Well, in a game versus the Cincinnati Bengals last season, it was Lewis' influence that simply got Rice's confidence through the roof.
(Click to the 8:40 mark to see Lewis speaking to Rice)
So, Rice takes the advice and hits a crease between the tackles en route to a 51-yard touchdown for Baltimore.
For that game, Rice averaged eight yards per carry and racked up 191 rushing yards and two scores. Looking at what Rice has accomplished through his short career, responding to Lewis and pulling off a big run in a clutch situation says it all.
Ed Reed, Safety
There is no one else better prepared to lead the Baltimore Ravens after Lewis than Ed Reed.
He's been playing with Lewis since the 2002 NFL season and although he's 34 years old, Reed has already proven during this young season that he has plenty left in the tank.
(Click to 7:37 mark to see Lewis and Reed)
Now yes, Reed did dance with retirement early this summer. Per Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times last May:
Reed has acknowledged contemplating retirement in the past, and did so again during a Sirius NFL radio interview.
Hours later, though, the Times was provided a quote from Reed where he said he planned to continue to play football.
"It's not about retirement, it's about my focus in the offseason, health, family and football," said Reed, who has battled hip, neck and shoulder injuries in recent years. "This is the time of year where players think through things. My goal is to play football in the years to come."
Every year since 2003, Reed has been an All Pro selection; a place in Canton, Ohio seems like a foregone conclusion. By no means would watching the Ravens defense be the same without him and Lewis, but if there's one guy besides the Hall of Fame linebacker to count on, it's Reed.
Joe Flacco, QB
Joe Flacco is the best quarterback in Ravens franchise history, period.
Sure, Trent Dilfer has a Vince Lombardi Trophy, but he was also backed by arguably the NFL's best single season defense of all-time. Now, Flacco undoubtedly is backed by a strong defense too; however, he's also been putting up the numbers and points along with winning.
During the 2011 AFC Championship game, Lewis felt only optimism that Baltimore's offense would score to regain the lead over the New England Patriots.
(Click to the 2:20 mark to hear Lewis' positive attitude)
For literally the entire drive, Flacco was near flawless. He stepped up into the pocket and delivered each pass with confidence. The pass to Lee Evans in particular was spot on, so Lewis has legitimate quarterback mechanics to back his beliefs in Flacco—aside from him just being a teammate.
Include the quarterback position always having that leadership connotation as part of the role, and it's only natural for a team to gravitate toward the signal-caller. Flacco has only developed with each new season, and 2012 may be the Ravens' best offense yet.
Along with Lewis, Flacco is only enhancing the leadership position as a great quarterback. To that end, he'll easily keep on rolling whenever Lewis decides to hang up the cleats for good.
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