Leadership has never been a problem for the Baltimore Ravens.
Since their inception they’ve employed the quintessential field general whose name doesn’t even need to be mentioned.
But now their lead dog, Ray Lewis is gone as is the Robin to his Batman, Ed Reed.
So for the first time in a generation observers of the team are wondering where the team’s leadership will come from.
We all want leaders. We all need leaders and when one leaves, you assess the damage and determine what’s left and what is missing.
Ray Lewis was not the inspiring, animated spokesperson in the locker room 24/7. If he had been, teammates would have tuned him out and Ray’s messages would have fallen upon deaf ears. Ray picked his spots for his demonstrative soliloquies but generally led by example through his dedication to his craft and willingness to put in extra hours studying film.
Losing that kind of leadership is challenging particularly with so many newcomers to the defensive side of the ball. Yet it is manageable with the right personnel.
The Ravens believe that the rookies they’ve drafted are special not only in terms of talent, but in terms of work ethic, commitment and love of the game. They are rich in character and a few were team captains at the collegiate level (Matt Elam, Arthur Brown, Brandon Williams and John Simon). The team’s top free agent signing Elvis Dumervil has been a leader in the past, and has already shown that in his short time so far as a Raven.
For all of these men, given their natural instincts to lead, perhaps the need TO BE led isn’t as great.
That helps to soften the blow of Ray Lewis’ retirement.
Here’s something else to keep in mind. With Lewis now gone, perhaps there has been a leader-in-wait, willingly accepting a subservient role until the alpha male moves on. And now that Ray is gone, perhaps someone else is ready to step up as the clubhouse leader.
Many believe that someone will be Jameel McClain.
Coaches consistently sing McClain’s praises while other insiders enthusiastically describe the former Syracuse Orangeman as a hard-working, smart player, very capable of handling adversity. Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees has been very emphatic that a starting ILB position is McClain’s to lose.
Time will tell if McClain will reward his coaches’ confidence and if he can capably accept the leadership reins from Ray Lewis.
It’s possible that given the mental makeup of the team, one rich in character, that the value of leadership or perceived lack thereof is overstated. But one thing that cannot be emphasized enough is the value that Ray Lewis provided on the field, pre-snap.
Those last split-second adjustments – re-setting teammates’ positioning based upon his experience and knowledge drawn from his insatiable appetite for detail and consumption of game tape.
Those are the things that will be missed.
Those are the things that will be so difficult to replace.
The Ravens hope to compensate by fielding a faster team yet by his own admission, Pees believes that the defense while potentially faster, is dealing with a learning curve and the players are not yet playing to their capabilities, slowed by cerebral processing.
It’s still early.
The speed will come in time but until then, and with so many new faces, mistakes will be made – some of which may have been averted had the Ravens not lost their lead dog.
There’s an old cliché: “The scenery only changes for the lead dog.”
In the case of the Ravens, the scenery has changed without their lead dog.