Why Manti Te'o Is the Perfect Replacement for Ray Lewis
In a very short matter of time, the identity of the Baltimore Ravens defense completely changed. For the cash-strapped, draft-pick-heavy Ravens, their next move could be their most important one. Their first-round pick in April's draft needs to be Manti Te'o.
The Ravens used to be led by the fearsome tandem of Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. But with Lewis' retirement and Reed signing with Houston last week, that core is now gone, along with a number of other contributing members.
Pass-rusher Paul Kruger has been replaced by Elvis Dumervil, which is actually a step up but still a significant alteration. Defensive backs Bernard Pollard and Cary Williams also have new homes.
Te'o would be the perfect replacement for Lewis, even though many in Baltimore thought they already had Lewis' replacement in Dannell Ellerbe, until he bolted for Miami on the first day of free agency.
The Ravens defense, although historically dominating, was actually not that good this season. They ranked 17th in the NFL in total yardage during the regular season and gave up 428 yards per game during the playoffs.
With the additions of Chris Canty and Marcus Spears to go along with Haloti Ngata, Arthur Jones and Dumervil, the defensive line will be one of the league's best. Terrell Suggs will be back at full health and should be a major contributor once again.
Around the rest of the defense, a number of newer, younger guys will be given larger roles and expected to step up. But there is still that big hole left by Lewis, which Te'o should be more than capable of filling.
Te'o has become somewhat of a polarizing figure with the whole fake girlfriend scandal, and as strange and confusing as that situation may be, it does not seem like there was any malicious intent on Te'o's part. He handled his interview extremely well at the NFL combine, and it seems like he has put everything behind him and is ready to move on.
Te'o was known as one of the best leaders in college football, and he commanded a very successful Notre Dame defense en route to being named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, a rare feat for a defensive player.
After his impressive combine interview, however, he was a bit disappointing when he actually took to the field. His less-than-stellar 40 time caused Ravens' coach John Harbaugh to infamously shake his head in disapproval.
Harbaugh may not like what he saw when Te'o got to sprinting, but once he goes back over game tape, he'll realize that Te'o plays a lot faster on the field than he ran in the combine. After all, a 40 time in February should not have much of an influence on a middle linebacker's value, and Te'o can still improve on it at his upcoming pro day.
Lewis was not known as the speediest of players, especially as he wore on into his thirties, yet he was still effective because of his aggressive nature and uncanny instincts. Te'o may not be quite as ferocious as Lewis, but with this new-look defense, he does not have to be.
The team will be taking on a bit of a new persona, and it may actually do them some good to be a bit more balanced of a unit, getting younger and faster all around the field. On top of drafting Te'o, they have a number of other young guys who will be stepping up alongside the Butkus Award Winner.
Courtney Upshaw will take on a major role as a second-year linebacker. Jimmy Smith and Chykie Brown will have to step up in the secondary, while Arthur Jones should retain a rotational role on the defensive line.
Te'o plays strong, quick, instinctive football. Scandal notwithstanding, there were never any reports of him being an issue in the locker room, and he is like a second coach on the field.
Lewis, as many will remember, had a bit of an incident early in his career that caused a lot of people to question his character and place in Baltimore's organization. But the Ravens were willing to give him a shot, and it worked out to the tune of two Super Bowls. There is no reason to think they can't replicate that second-chance success this time around with Te'o.
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