Wednesday evening, a leaner -- though not necessarily meaner -- Ray Lewis stepped outside of the Under Armour Performance Center and strolled to a microphone stand surrounded by reporters and video cameras.
The 37-year-old inside linebacker was noticeably lighter than he was at the end of last season, and his white polo shirt and dark slim-fitting jeans showed off the streamlined physique that Lewis spoke about last month. He said at the mandatory minicamp that the weight loss was calculated, a response to the Rob Gronkowskis and Aaron Hernandezes of the world and the high-scoring passing offenses that have taken over the league.
Lewis, who played at around 260 pounds in 2011, said again Wednesday that “the game is changing.” As he explained, there “ain’t no more 250-, 260-pound fullbacks and the offense running the ball 25, 30, 40 times.”
As an inside linebacker in this defense, though, his primary responsibility will still be stopping the run, which he did well a season ago as the Ravens ranked second in rushing defense and Lewis made his 13th Pro Bowl.
Lewis wouldn’t give away an exact weight, but he said he is “much lighter” than 240 pounds. He also told reporters that this is the lightest he has been at the start of training camp in his 17 years in Baltimore (though when he arrived in Baltimore in 1996 as an “undersized” linebacker, Lewis might have weighed a little less).
It seems inevitable that this will be scrutinized by commentators and armchair quarterbacks in Baltimore and beyond.
What remains to be seen, though, is whether the weight loss will help this fitness freak of nature prolong his already-prolonged career, and enable him to stay on the field for passing situations, where he may be asked to run stride for stride with elusive, athletic tight ends like New England’s dynamic duo of Gronkowski and Hernandez. But will a lighter load make him more susceptible to injury as he inches toward his 40th birthday?
Those 260-pound fullbacks may be becoming obsolete today, but violent collisions are not.