Late For Work 4/23: Finally A Shot At Lewis Heir

Hard Knocks door open as Falcons decline. Williams not going anywhere. Ravens aren’t old.

Posted by Sarah Ellison on Monday, April 23rd, 2012 at 9:06 am | Categories: Late For Work, Sarah Ellison

Finally A Shot At Lewis Heir

Ozzie Newsome said he has been trying to find an heir to future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis for six years.

Luckily the seemingly immortal Lewis continues to defy odds, buying Ravens brass time to find the right player for the right price.

Could Dont’a Hightower be the right player? Could Thursday night be the right time? And could a rookie salary be the right price?

That’s the growing consensus.

Listen to Peter King, one of the first to propose that the Ravens trade up to snatch Hightower if the Alabama linebacker is still on the board in the low 20s, in the video below.

The long-time SI scribe provides compelling reasons to make a bold move, saying Hightower is not only a playmaker, but an incredible leader the Ravens defense will need.

“While nobody will ever replace the ability and the fire of Ray Lewis, I think they could have in mind this year a guy late in the first round … who could be the long-term replacement that they’ve been looking for Ray Lewis, for a long time. That player is Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower.

“Hightower is a guy who, and Ozzie Newsome the general manager knows this because he’s an Alabama guy and he has great connections there, he knows what an incredible leader Hightower is. He’s been a two-year captain. When [Head Coach] Nick Saban has a captain for two years, that guy’s a leader. He’s also been a great playmaker for the Crimson Tide.”

The 6-foot- 2, 265-pound linebacker is explosive and versatile.

He played at both inside linebacker positions at Alabama, he can rush the passer and he can drop back in coverage. He’s passionate and smart, leading the Crimson Tide defense on the team’s way to a national title last year.

In a letter to the “Wizard of Oz” himself, The Baltimore Sun’s Kevin Cowherd implored Newsome to make a move for Hightower.

“How long have we been talking about finding his heir apparent? At least six or seven years, right,” Cowherd asked. “But now you’ve got a shot at this kid Dont’a Hightower, the big, high-impact linebacker from Alabama. And, yes, it might take some maneuvering to land him …

“But you should go after him, Ozzie. Go after him hard. Don’t let this kid get away.”

While the Ravens may have more immediate needs that they could address with the first-round selection, especially on the interior offensive line or by adding another speedy receiver, picking Hightower now could be the best long-term choice.

Allowing Lewis to mentor his successor while he is still playing could be an invaluable experience.

“Let Hightower learn at the feet of the master. Let him pick Ray’s brain about playing inside linebacker in the NFL throughout the OTAs and training camp and the long, grueling season,” wrote Cowherd. “Let him see up-close and personal what it takes to play the position for so many years at such an incredibly skilled level.

“And maybe if he works hard and you get lucky — really lucky — Hightower someday turns into the next great middle linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. Wouldn’t that be something to see?”

Falcons Decline Hard Knocks, Leaving Door Open For Ravens

The Atlanta Falcons declined an invitation to appear on the HBO reality television show “Hard Knocks,” according to ESPN.

A league source told the news outlet that HBO is looking into the Ravens and San Francisco 49ers as options for a two-team documentary featuring the Harbaugh brothers.

The New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars are two other options, as they have both shown previous interest.

When rumors first surfaced about the Ravens possibly being on the show for the second time in franchise history (they were the first to ever be filmed in 2001 following their Super Bowl victory), AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley expressed doubt that Head Coach John Harbaugh would want to open his practice doors to cameras.

I would be shocked if the Ravens agreed to be on the show,” he wrote. “When the Ravens were on ‘Hard Knocks’ 11 years ago, their head coach was Brian Billick, who never minded the media attention and actually seemed to enjoy it.

“The same can’t be said for John Harbaugh, who seems uncomfortable when the local media shoot parts of the open media viewing of practice. That’s why I can’t see Harbaugh signing off on cameras in meeting rooms and having it broadcast on national TV.”

Williams Not Going Anywhere

Friday’s deadline on restricted free agency has passed.

No teams tried to make a move for cornerback Cary Williams, who was given a second-round tender by the Ravens and is the only restricted free agent left to sign his contract.

As such, the Baltimore Sun boasted this headline Friday: “It looks like Ravens’ Cary Williams isn’t going anywhere.”

Wrote Matt Vensel: “It is pretty much a formality that cornerback Cary Williams … will be back in Baltimore this season even though he has yet to sign his one-year restricted tender and technically isn’t under contract.

“Williams presumably hasn’t signed his tender because he and the Ravens are in advanced talks on a contract extension, which is something team officials recently said was a priority this offseason.”

Once Williams, who is rehabbing after offseason hip surgery, does sign, he will be the final piece that completes a formidable long-term trio of corners with Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith.

In Webb’s eyes, the three corners combined with safeties Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed make up the best defensive backs corps in the NFL.

Billick: Ravens Are Not Old

It’s almost become cliché as you read draft reports: The Baltimore Ravens need to replenish their “aging” defense.

But that perception mainly exists because Lewis and Reed, two long-time franchise faces, are still playing in their twilight years.

Their presence has masked what Newsome has done to keep the team youthful on both the offensive and defensive sides.

“Some have categorized the Ravens as getting old, but that stems from the questions of how long Ray Lewis and Ed Reed will continue to play,” wrote former Ravens head coach Brian Billick. “General manager Ozzie Newsome has systematically infused younger talent on this team, which should sustain them for a while.

“The Ravens franchised Ray Rice and are trying to tie up quarterback Joe Flacco long term. They will be the faces and cornerstones of the Ravens when Lewis and Reed decide to call it quits.”

Quick Hits

  • “I think the Ravens need to think of a wide receiver early because Anquan Boldin might be in his final season with the team. But the Ravens could be thinking of taking one later,” wrote Hensley. [ESPN]
  • Ray Lewis will no longer be called to testify in the ongoing trial of former Bengals linebacker Nate Webster. Lewis had been subpoenaed as a defense witness early last week, but it was unclear why. [The Cincinnati Enquirer].
  • Is Boise State outside linebacker Shea McClellin, a rising draft prospect, on the Ravens’ radar for this first round? [The Carroll County Times]
  • AdamSchefter: Steelers WR Mike Wallace told some within Steelers organization that he does not plan to sign his first-round tender “until he has to.” [Twitter]
  • Steelers in a rebuilding year?  Billick thinks so: “Cap issues, injuries and being exposed in the playoffs as a team that can’t play man coverage are just a few of the difficulties facing the Steelers. The Steelers never say they are rebuilding, but reloading. This year could be the exception.” []
  • Former Colts Vice Chairman Bill Polian names the teams he believes to be the best at drafting, putting the Ravens at the top. [ESPN]
  • The NFL Network will air its Top 100 Players show Saturday, unveiling who is the best as voted on by the players. But you can voice your opinion on by casting your vote. []
  • The Ravens are “on the clock.” What will they do with their 29th pick? []

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