No Urlacher, no Lewis means end of an era

No Urlacher, no Lewis means end of an era
May 24, 2013, 1:30 pm
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Urlacher has some high praise for Ray Lewis

When Brian Urlacher announced his retirement Wednesday, it hit home for the Ravens, who have been adjusting to losing their own iconic linebacker.

Ray Lewis is certainly heading to the Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in 2018. Urlacher could very well be inducted alongside Lewis. That leaves the two linebackers linked, and the Ravens and Bears with something in common – preparing for 2013 without their former defensive tone-setters.

``I’ve thought about it,’’ said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, when asked Wednesday during an OTA media session about how it felt not having Lewis around. `` I don’t know. Ray was never here during the offseason anyway, so I’d say it’s business as usual,’’ Harbaugh said light-heartedly. ``How about that?

``It’s normal, but Ray’s a part of us. He’s always going to be a part of us – just like the other guys that have played here are always a part of us.’’

Both Lewis and Urlacher were past their primes in 2012, but that does not mean they were not vital to their teams.  Lewis went out on top, as the Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII. For the Ravens to return to the postseason, they will be challenged to replace at least two intangibles that Lewis brought to the table, including:

Passion – Did anyone play with more of it than Lewis? Everything he did on Sundays, from the way he came out of the tunnel, to the way he spoke to teammates, to the way he played, was done with passion. That rubs off on teammates, during games, practices and meetings over a long and demanding season. It holds teammates accountable, seeing an older, more established player approach competition look a young rookie.

Lewis’ passion was part of the Ravens’ culture that has been established under Harbaugh, part of the reason they have made the playoffs for five consecutive years. Not having Lewis opens the door for other leaders to step forward. But there will likely be teams that the Ravens miss the consistent energy that Lewis fueled.

Intelligence  - Lewis loved studying opponents, recognizing plays before they developed, and directing teammates into position before the ball was snapped. Even when he could not make a play himself, Lewis could sometimes tell a teammate what to expect. Urlacher was the same. Bears linebacker Lance Briggs told reporters this week how strange it was for him to call defensive signals at OTA’s instead of Urlacher.

``Very different,’’ Briggs said. ``I’ve been spoiled for the last 10 years.’’

With both Lewis and Ed Reed gone, the Ravens will direct traffic differently on defense this season. That does not mean the defense will not be cohesive. But it will be an adjustment.

It will be interesting to see how well the Ravens and Bears have adjusted by the time they face other on Nov. 17 in Chicago. No Lewis in Baltimore? No Urlacher in Chicago? No matter what happens, it will be different.