Sound And Fury Signify Just One Man: Ray Lewis
NOTEBOOK: FLACCO IGNORES CONTRACT TALKS; RICE'S NEW HELMET
By Joe Platania, PressBoxOnline.com
OWINGS MILLS -- When William Shakespeare wrote about sound and fury signifying nothing, there's no way he could have counted on Ray Lewis.
The 17th-year Ravens inside linebacker is the rarest kind of player, whose career you could have been listening to as well as watching.
In fact, Lewis has had such an impact on the NFL in general -- and Baltimore in particular -- that it can be said he has regularly tugged on all five basic human senses.
His sideline-to-sideline runs to run down ball carriers have been sights to behold. His jarring hits have left bad tastes in opponents' mouths and, to say the least, harmful touches on their bodies. Opposing quarterbacks, using the internal clocks in their heads, have often sensed him coming as if he were a bad odor.
But it's the sounds for which Lewis will be well-remembered: the thwack of sudden pad-on-pad contact, the volume and intensity of his voice as he dominates a pregame huddle or punctuates a tackle, and the first few bars of the hip-hop melody to which he dances before home games.
Whether you think training camp officially begins Thursday or got under way with the rookies and quarterbacks on Tuesday, the clarion call actually sounded early Wednesday night as Lewis opened his mouth to the public for the first time.
With reporters his only immediate audience, it wouldn't have made sense for Lewis to go into full motivational-speaker mode, as he did during the offseason with the Loyola University men's lacrosse team and the Stanford men's basketball squad, both of which ended their seasons with championships (the Cardinal won the little-noticed National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden).
"It really affects people in ways that you have never known," Lewis said. "You just actually speak from your heart. But, to receive what they speak about and what they feel, it's awesome. It's awesome. So, it's just one of those things I love to hear the comments of what people say after the fact."
But the sounds Lewis made upon reclaiming his turf for another year, for friends and foes alike, were indeed ominous.
For instance, one thing that has always set Lewis apart from others at his position is his speed. It is also the most-scrutinized element to his game, as national analysts are fond of saying that he's lost a step during the past few years.
But if Lewis, who has undertaken a cycling-based regimen during recent offseasons, really does weigh reportedly less than 240 pounds, the lowest of his career -- and his cut physique and chiseled jawline seem to indicate at least a 20-pound dropoff from last year, when he played at 260 -- then he may be ready to again defy Father Time and get that step back.
"You just change with the game," Lewis said. "If everybody runs, who can't run? So for me, that's kind of what my thought process was coming into these next [few] years. And I've had a couple of coaches over the years [provide some] great advice that was shared with me. The lighter you get, the lighter you play, and you just feel better.
"You feel better because you have the wisdom to go off and do whatever you want to do, but I just think playing a little lighter is a lot smarter for me."
As he said, Lewis feels he has to keep up with the times, which currently dictate more passing by opposing offenses and much less running. Even when teams do run, they are rarely using a lead-blocking fullback to get to the second level and create clogged pursuit lanes for someone like Lewis.
During the mandatory minicamp in June, Lewis talked about how fewer fullbacks came after him last year. But just as the football gods took away one offensive wrinkle, they have provided another: two-tight-end attacks in which both players can get downfield and provide potent passers with even more targets.
The New England Patriots, generally regarded by most observers as the NFL's best team of the last decade, seemed to be ahead of the curve as they used Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski to help them reach a fifth Super Bowl during 11 seasons, barely edging the Ravens during last year's AFC Championship Game.
But no pair of tight ends, no charismatic quarterback and no universally lauded defensive-minded head coach will keep Lewis from coaxing, cajoling and prodding his teammates toward yet another shot at a Super Bowl.
And, perhaps more importantly, nothing will stop Lewis from doing the same things for himself.
"I think it's just being blessed that I'’ve been able to maintain through my injuries and through the ups and downs of this game," Lewis said. "I think it's a credit to my work ethic and just everything that I've bought into over the years. Every year, I'm always trying to change, always trying to come back better for my team.
"But I just think, just to be around and see the different generations that have come up and come through, I think it's awesome. I appreciate now the way Rod Woodson and Shannon Sharpe felt when they were at the stage in their careers to where they appreciated young guys like me. So, I appreciate Ray [Rice]. I appreciate Joe [Flacco]. I appreciate Michael Oher and all those guys."
How will those players know they are appreciated? Lewis will constantly tell them so.
In the process, he will provide a soundtrack that will reverberate through the present-day locker room and resonate far into the future.
JOEY P'S TRIVIA TIME: Today's question:
Even though Ray Lewis' relentless work ethic would seem to indicate that he's the kind of player that is never satisfied, one moment that had to make him feel content for at least a little while was last year's 35-7 home-opening demolition of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
During that game, which Steelers player was the victim of Lewis' first tackle of the 2011 season: Ben Roethlisberger, Rashard Mendenhall or Mike Wallace?
The answer will be revealed at the bottom of Thursday's post-practice entry.
FLACCO MOVING FORWARD: The media and public aren't privy to the circumstances under which quarterback Joe Flacco signed his first Ravens contract in the spring of 2008.
But it likely went something like this: Flacco walked into the room, picked up a pen, signed his name and then left the room to either read his playbook, watch film or both.
It wouldn't be surprising if such a simplistic scenario took place, for Flacco is a no-frills type, who sets out what he needs to do, and then attempts to do it the best way he can.
That's why the usual public hullaballoo about a new contract doesn't seem to be having much of an effect on him, according to what Flacco's agent, Joe Linta, told the NFL Network.
"All the conversations [between Flacco and the Ravens] have been productive," Linta told the network. "We've gone back and forth on proposals, and the biggest thing I can tell you is that Joe's so focused on winning that all of this isn't something he's paying a lot of attention to. He's got such a chip on his shoulder about winning now.
"The most telling quote from Joe I can give you is that he told me, 'I've got a contract, and I'm gonna honor it.' He's part of a rare breed in this day and age."
What also makes Flacco rare is that whenever he's asked about it -- and he'll be talking to the media this week as the rest of the veterans take the field for the first time -- he won't have much to say.
Flacco seems to blithely ignore what's going on upstairs while he takes care of business downstairs ... that is, on the field. Flacco tends to deal with a distraction such as a pass rusher in his face or a linebacker in the throwing lanes.
"The only distraction for Joe would be me calling him," Linta said. "I've been doing this a long time, and I've rarely seen a guy so single-minded."
HEAD CASE: Being one of the smallest targets on the field, running back Ray Rice would seem to be an easy target for defenders that have no qualms about administering a concussion-provoking hit on the elusive ball carrier.
To that end, Rice has taken a major step toward making sure that doesn't happen, or at least making the chances of a concussion less likely.
According to a press release by Xenith, a company that produces a new kind of football helmet, Rice is one of many players around the league going with the new apparatus, called the X2.
The X2's most distinctive feature is the 14-18 shock absorbers that, according to the company, act as individual air bags to protect the head from head trauma and possible concussions.
Xenith's marketing campaign for the X2 promotes players wearing the X2 as enlightened warriors, going into a football game prepared to play tough, but smart.
The campaign also features a video of Rice playing chess, a game to which he was introduced as a child. To see the video and learn more about the helmet, click here.
Posted July 26, 2012