As Sam Koch waits to catch the ball from long snapper Morgan Cox, Anthony Levine stands a few yards in front of Koch and barks out the signals. After Cox fires the ball to Koch, Levine picks up a rusher up the middle, giving Koch the time he needs to unload another booming kick.
As Chris Moore waits for a kickoff to land in his hands, Levine sprints 30 yards toward Moore, then turns around and seals off an opponent, opening a lane for the Ravens’ kick returner.
As Justin Tucker launches a kickoff toward the opposing end zone, Levine darts downfield, sheds a blocker and makes a tackle.
If there is a play involving the Ravens’ special teams, Levine is probably right there in the middle of it. He has become the de facto captain of the Ravens’ standout special teams unit, even earning the nickname "Co-Cap" from his teammates.
There might not be much glamour in punt protection or kick-return blocking, but coaches know the value. It’s a big reason Levine, now in his sixth season with the Ravens, signed a new, three-year, $4.2 million deal in March. It’s been quite a run for an undrafted player out of Tennessee State who couldn’t get on the field in two years with the Green Bay Packers before coming to Baltimore.
Levine, 30, has also excelled as a role player on defense, so versatile that cornerback Jimmy Smith has called him a Swiss Army knife of the Ravens' defense. Levine is a safety by training, but he has increasingly been used as a dime line-backer this season and also has played cornerback -- where he made the only three starts of his career in 2014.
"He has played excellent on special teams," head coach John Harbaugh said. "But defensively, you see him out there, and he plays multiple positions. Is he a safety? Is he a linebacker? A corner? What is he playing out there? He does all of those things equally well. … [He’s] an underrated talent. He has been a big part of our defense."
Through 12 games this season, Levine led the Ravens in special teams tackles with nine, two shy of the career-high he set in 2013. He also had 11 tackles on defense, a pair of sacks and his first career regular-season interception, which sealed the Ravens’ 23-16 Monday night win against the Houston Texans Nov. 27.
"Every year I just come out and try to do better than what I did last year," Levine said. "I try to up my game on special teams, I try to up my game on defense. When you have a guy like Eric Weddle, one of the greats, when you have a guy like Terrell Suggs, when you got a young, prime C.J. Mosley, they up your play.
"When you come and play for the Ra-vens and you get on that field, and when you’re around guys like that, you have no choice but to raise your play."
Levine was second-team All-Ohio Valley Conference as a senior at Tennessee State. He signed with the Packers’ practice squad and was technically a Super Bowl champion as a rookie, as the Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV after the 2010 season.
But after two years on the Packers’ practice squad without ever being promoted to the 53-man roster, Levine was cut at the end of training camp in 2012. He was signed to the Ravens’ practice squad a few days later, and then the team promoted him to the active roster in November 2012. Levine played just two games before going on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, but for the second time in three NFL seasons, his team went on to win the Super Bowl.
Since then, Levine has steadily carved out a larger role on the Ravens’ roster, and the Abbeville, La., native is also carving out a role in the Baltimore community.
This past fall, Levine, who wears No. 41, "adopted" the football team at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School in Northeast Baltimore via his 4Every1 Foundation. Levine visited with Mervo’s team, offering advice to the play-ers on succeeding in life and in school, and kept in touch with them throughout the season.
He gave the players his personal email address and invited them to reach out to him with issues, problems and ques-tions, which they have done.
"The things that the kids are telling me, I went through myself,"
. "So I’m like, ‘Man, I understand what this kid’s going through.’ When he’s emailing me I’m like, ‘I understand,’ so I know how to respond to them."
Levine popped in on Mervo’s team the day they played Poly, and Mervo head coach Patrick Nixon said, "The guys were so excited it was really a challenge for me to get them calm for the game." (They apparently managed, since Mervo won, 46-20.)
"I think they’re just seeking valida-tion, really, for them that you pretty much can make it if you work hard enough and listen to the right people," Nixon said. "It’s the same message that many of us coaches are telling these kids; now they have someone who’s in front of them that’s actually done it."
Levine’s foundation hosted a Thanksgiving turkey drive last month and has partnered with local schools to pay for SAT test prep classes and testing fees for students in need.
As he has for many years in his career, Levine will enter this offseason with questions about his future. He turns 31 in March, an age when many NFL careers are winding down -- or over. But he still has a relatively cheap contract and a versatile and significant, if often overlooked, role. He has played more special teams snaps than anyone else on the roster this season.
"We look for guys like that," Harbaugh said. "There are players over the years who have made careers in that particular role. You look at the really good teams in the National Football League, they have guys who play specific roles. That is the way football is built. There are roles involved. It is really important, and we value that."