Continuity has never been an issue for the Ravens at inside linebacker.
For the first 17 franchise years, Ray Lewis was the man in the middle chasing down tackles and building a Hall of Fame resume. Daryl Smith replaced Lewis last year after he retired, and Smith prevented any drop off in production when he took over the job.
Now, Smith plans to anchor down that linebacker spot in Baltimore for the rest of his career.
"They gave me a shot last year, and I want to finish here – finish my career here," Smith said. "We definitely made some strides last year, and we all want to win – win a championship."
The 11-year veteran has a realistic shot to spend the rest of his playing days in Baltimore. After playing last season on a one-year contract, the Ravens re-signed him to a four-year deal reportedly worth $16 million in March.
Even though Smith was filling a role left vacant by the beloved No. 52, for Smith it wasn't about carrying on for Lewis. He just wanted to continue playing at the same level that made him the Jacksonville Jaguars franchise-leading tackler.
"I never really did think about [replacing Lewis] until it was brought up in a setting like this," Smith told the media. "I didn't concentrate on doing anything but making my plays, picking up the defense and playing ball."
That's exactly what he did.
Smith proved to be one of the Ravens' best defensive players last year, leading the team with 123 tackles. He also came up with three interceptions, 19 passes defensed and two forced fumbles.
"He has a good feel for the game, understands the defense and can put himself and other players in position to make plays," veteran defensive lineman Chris Canty said. "He just has a knack for being in the right place at the right time to be able to make that big play for us. It's great to be able to line up with a guy like that – that has that kind of command and has that kind of feel for the game and for the defense."
Smith's emergence was somewhat unexpected. Smith had flown under the radar throughout his 10-year career with the Jaguars, and his signing with the Ravens in early June generated little fanfare.
But once he took the field in training camp, the Ravens quickly realized that they had a quality starter to fill the void in the middle of the defense.
"We knew he was a really good player," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "We thought he would play well for us, but [you have to look at] all the intangibles, too. You just don't really know a guy until you have him. He played every snap for us on defense, and that is quite an accomplishment in and of itself. He played at a high level."
Smith downplayed his individual performance that came during a season where the Ravens finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs.
"We did some good things, but ultimately, we're out here to win, and we did not win enough to get to the playoffs," Smith said. "But we definitely have some things to build on and look forward to that."
Like many positions on the defense, the Ravens have injected youth into the inside linebacker spot. The team used a first-round pick on C.J. Mosley this year and a second-round pick on Arthur Brown last season, and the Ravens have high expectations for both of them.
But the apparent plan for this season is that Mosley and Brown will compete for the linebacker spot next to Smith, and the Ravens will continue to rely on the consistent veteran in the middle.
"We [should] definitely build on what we did from last year. We added some pieces and look pretty good," Smith said. "We've got a long way to go, but I definitely think we've got the guys in here to do it, and we're all motivated."