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Pundits speak of the Ravens’ “aging” defense and look straight at its two longtime leaders, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
Lewis and Reed will be back next season, but they aren’t getting any younger. Lewis, 36, is entering his 17th year. Reed, 33, is going into his 11th.
Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti isn’t concerned about whether his team will maintain its defensive identity once they retire.
“I saw Ed sit out the first six games in 2010 and we went 12-4. Then I saw Ray Lewis go down for four games last year and we went 12-4 and 4-0 in those specific games,” Bisciotti said at the NFL owners meetings.
“So no, I don’t [have concern].”
Reed missed the start of the 2010 season as he recovered from offseason hip surgery. The Ravens plugged in Tom Zbikowski and, while they didn’t have as many takeaways, were among the league leaders in passing yards allowed per game by the time he returned.
When a toe injury kept Lewis out for four weeks last year, inside linebacker Jameel McClain took the helmet microphone and the Ravens allowed an average of just 12.5 points per game.
Baltimore’s defense still has plenty oftalent with likes of McClain and Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs at linebacker, massive Haloti Ngata and Terrence Cody on the line and a secondary with young, emerging cornerbacks Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith.
They have continually drafted well on defense, restoring it with youth surrounding Lewis and Reed.
“I think that we are built to survive anything,” Bisciotti said.
“When those guys are out, we still play great defense. When they retire, the Ravens will still passionately defend our defensive philosophy of being aggressive and being one of the best. And we’ll draft and we’ll sign accordingly.”
It’s not just Lewis and Reed’s impact on the field. It’s also Lewis and Reed’s leadership both in the week leading up to games, and also on game day itself.
Sports Illustrated scribe Peter King believes that won’t be a problem either, however.
“Ray Lewis’ impact on the team will live on because he will have set such a great example for the players to follow,” he said at the owners meetings.