Money may trouble R. Lewis, but play still yields rewards

October 22, 2005|By MIKE PRESTON

There have been numerous theories on why Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis doesn't want to be the face of the franchise anymore, from being focused to being a Christian to being less self centered.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

It's all about the money, baby.

During the offseason, Lewis talked to Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome about a contract extension, which would have amounted to the final, big, upfront payout of his career as a Raven.

But Newsome declined to restructure the deal, pointing out that the team had renegotiated Lewis' contract several times throughout his 10 years with the team, including in 2003, which many thought would allow Lewis to retire as a Raven.

Lewis, though, countered by pointing out that he had done a lot for a franchise that was struggling both financially and image-wise when it moved from Cleveland to Baltimore after the 1995 season. He became the team's most recognizable player and even helped recruit free agents.

Lewis feels as though he has been worth much more to the team than just another player.

Newsome agreed and said thanks, but no thanks. No new deal.

Hence, you have the isolated Lewis on the sideline on game day. He doesn't want to be the face of the Ravens any longer. You could tell it was coming when Lewis, after speaking with Newsome, told me five months ago: "I don't want to be a GM. I don't want to be a coach. I'm going to be a player again and end up being the Most Valuable Player, not just on defense, but for the entire league."

You can understand the arguments for both sides. The Ravens have compensated him well, and Lewis is on the decline. On the other hand, this franchise wouldn't have gotten anywhere near that Super Bowl trophy in the 2000 season without Lewis, who was the best player in the NFL.

The problem with Lewis, though, is that he can't help but be a leader. He just has that kind of charisma. Just because he sits on the sideline by himself means little because one thing Lewis hates more than not getting a new contract is losing.

He'll smack you around in a game of marbles.

Nothing has affected his play on the field. He is probably playing better than a year ago. He still helps his teammates. The hustle is there, and he still gets respect in the locker room. Some people don't like his dancing and prancing after tackles and during the pre-game, but those same antics kept the crowd alive during an otherwise boring 16-3 win against Cleveland on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

Lewis might be in another zone tomorrow against the Chicago Bears. He claims he is the best middle linebacker in the league, but others say that title belongs to the Bears' Brian Urlacher.

It will be fun to watch.

As far as not talking to reporters after games and practice, who cares? There are 52 other players available who can put together a string of one-syllable words and coaching cliches. Regardless of whether he talks on the field or off it, as long as Lewis can put on the No. 52 jersey, even if he crawls out there, this will be his team.

Don't be surprised if the Ravens run more of the 46 defense tomorrow against the Bears. It's not the team's base defense, but it is part of their packages.

And this might be the perfect time to use it. The Ravens haven't played the 46 a lot because opposing teams like to spread them out with three receiver sets. The 46 defense is ideal, though, against teams that want to run the ball.

The Bears (2-3) prefer to run more than pass because they have a rookie quarterback, Kyle Orton, who has completed only 78 of 139 attempts for 674 yards this season. To crowd the line of scrimmage and give the rookie a number of different looks would be a big advantage for the Ravens. Plus, it would give the Ravens a chance to work out some of the kinks because they'll probably want to use this defense more against the Steelers next week (oops, was that a secret?).

But a major drawback is the absence of Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed, who'll probably miss the Bears' game with a high ankle sprain. When you play the 46, you'd better have an outstanding center fielder. Chad Williams will replace Reed, but hasn't taken as many repetitions with the first team. Williams has a habit of making big plays when he is in a game, but neither Williams nor Will Demps, the other safety, has great speed. Dropping back into pass coverage isn't a strength for either player.

Outside linebacker Adalius Thomas needs to come up with a pre-game dance or a sack celebration.

He doesn't get enough recognition. He often gets lost behind Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, but he might be the most complete linebacker on the team, certainly an unsung hero.

Thomas is fourth on the team in total tackles with 24, and tied for the team lead in sacks with two with Tommy Polley and Roderick Green. This season, he has become more of a complete linebacker, being able to play against the run but also dropping into coverage against tight ends and running backs.

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