Ray Lewis is not just the greatest leader in Baltimore Ravens history, but he’s arguably the greatest leader in the history of the NFL. Heck, he might even be one of the greatest leaders in any team sport. There is no question that his presence and legendary work ethic will be sorely missed in the Ravens locker room this season.
But the Baltimore Ravens will not crumble to pieces without their commander-in-chief. They will not run about aimlessly on the football field without No. 52 to guide them, and they will not self-destruct and lose most of their games.
Ray Lewis isn’t the only leader to have departed. Ed Reed is another one of the NFL’s great leaders with supreme football intelligence and instincts. Vonta Leach, despite seeing a diminished role in terms of snaps, was a vocal presence in the locker room, and he brought an aggressive and hard-hitting edge to the offense.
The Ravens have lost a number of veterans and a lot of experience, and the common media reaction to this is to predict that a significantly weakened Ravens team will take the field in 2013. Baltimore was certainly extremely lucky to have a captain of Lewis’ caliber on its squad, and his passionate brand of vocal leadership cannot ever be replaced.
Nevertheless, not every NFL team has that same outspoken leader in its ranks, and quite frankly, it's not needed. It’s nice to have a player who can make motivational pregame speeches, but it’s more important to have players who buy into the coach’s system and lead by example.
There are a number of players who are ready to become the leaders for a new Ravens team. While it will take some time to adjust to practices without Lewis or Reed directing the action, the Ravens will be able to cope with the loss of their long-time leaders.
Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata are now the two veterans of the defense, and they are both looking for bounce-back seasons after injury-plagued campaigns in 2012. Elvis Dumervil, in his short time as a Raven, has already impressed coaches with his work ethic and natural leadership qualities, according to Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com.
General manager Ozzie Newsome also added some experienced players to the defense, like Chris Canty, Marcus Spears and Daryl Smith. Those are all players who know what it takes to succeed in the NFL, and they’re all capable of mentoring the younger players on the team.
Lardarius Webb was having a Pro Bowl-caliber season last year before it was cut short by injury. He's working his way back to full health and is looking to be a leader in the secondary. On offense, Joe Flacco and Ray Rice are two players who have been Ravens for a while and are ready to step up as the new faces of the franchise.
Perhaps the most important part of the leadership puzzle for the Ravens is John Harbaugh. His philosophy is already deeply imprinted on this team as the players pride themselves on their work ethic, tough practices and “embracing the grind.”
This is John Harbaugh’s team now, and that’s exciting. While Ray Lewis is the poster child for the Baltimore Ravens, the culture and character of the team are built on much more than a single player. The "Ravens way" is about hard work, intense practices and loving the game of football.
Those values remain strong in the locker room, and Coach Harbaugh will have the team ready to play. If you’re expecting this team to just fall apart without its long-time leader, you’re in for a surprise in 2013.