The question is unfair, but inevitable: Who is the next Ray Lewis?
Does that player exist on the Ravens (10-6), who are going into a wild-card game Sunday vs. the Indianapolis Colts?
Probably not. Even fourth-year linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe, both of whom have had their best seasons and are up for new contracts this offseason, don't fit the bill.
Kruger had a team-high 9 sacks and wasn’t even a full-time starter. Ellerbe excelled, especially when Lewis went down in Week 6 with a triceps tear. The Ravens lost three consecutive games when Ellerbe went down with an ankle injury.
Lewis, who announced he would retire at end of his 17th season, will return vs. the Colts. When he was injured in the fourth quarter, the Ravens had allowed a franchise-record 227 yards vs. the Dallas Cowboys.
Under the likes of Ellerbe, the defense has improved to 17th overall in the NFL after hovering near 30th most of the season.
“I don’t think so,” Ellerbe said when asked if he was the answer to the question. “How can you replace the greatest linebacker to play the game? Can’t do that. Can’t do nothing but allow somebody else to come in and build their own legacy. That’s what I look forward to doing. I’m not trying to be Ray Lewis. He had great successes in his career. I’d like to duplicate that, if not more. Seventeen years is a long time in this league.”
While Lewis is renowned for his inspirational speeches, that’s not Ellerbe’s thing. He leads differently.
“I'll say something if need be. I just let my play speak on the field,” he said. “It’s unfair to ask anybody to be somebody else. Everybody wants to be their own person.”
Cornerback Cary Williams echoed a similar sentiment about anyone on the roster stepping in that role.
“Greatness is greatness. Those things happen once in a lifetime,” Williams said. “I’m thinking back 17 years ago, playing football around the streets. I wasn’t Ray Lewis. I’d be Deion Sanders. We had pretend games and people used to pretend to be Ray Lewis. Now I’m sitting here, I’ve played with him for four years, it’s been amazing. It’s beena g reat journey. A great ride with him. You can’t replace a guy like that.”