It’s no secret that a sizable measure of leadership has been subtracted from the Ravens’ equation since they last played a game.
A Super Bowl-winning starting quarterback. A charismatic pass rusher likely headed to the Hall of Fame. A veteran safety so knowledgeable he positions his teammates before the snap. A linebacker who’d been to four Pro Bowls by age 26.
They were all respected and admired in the locker room, looked to as emotional tone-setters. Now they’re gone.
The front office is moving on, which is what front offices never stop doing in a league with so much change every year. Players have been targeted to step in and take over. There’s excitement about the possibilities they represent.
But there are questions, as always, and if those I’m fielding from podcast and radio interviewers in recent weeks are any indication, the leadership issue ranks high.
Who is going to lead this team?
I was asked that recently, and it was phrased so directly, in such a straightforward manner, that it gave me pause.
Before recounting my reply, I should point out that I haven’t always been a huge believer in leadership as a major difference-maker in the NFL. Having it can help, just as not having it can hurt, but I’ve always believed other factors such as talent, cohesion and coaching have a larger impact on your win-loss record.
Having said that, I’ll also admit my position has evolved a bit recently. Ray Lewis’ bona fides as a leader are beyond question, but I thought the Ravens would adjust when he retired. It turned out there was no replacing Lewis as a player who could motivate teammates, and the Ravens have had to deal with that.
They did, however, develop ample leadership by last season, and those influences need to be filled going forward.
But when asked point-blank who is going to lead them this year, I began my reply by saying I wasn’t particularly worried about it. Yes, they’ve suffered subtractions. But their roster isn’t lacking viable leaders.
There’s Marshal Yanda, the rugged veteran guard. Coming off his seventh Pro Bowl season, he is a career Raven who sets an ideal example with his work ethic and toughness. And if he isn’t an extrovert, he seems increasingly aware that his status as a locker room elder demands that his voice be heard.
Whenever someone suggests the Ravens lack leaders, my stock response is they should run that by Yanda and get back to me.
The organization also has been impressed by the leadership capabilities of running back Mark Ingram II, who seems quite comfortable in an out-front role. It doesn’t matter that he is new to Baltimore; so are the young guys populating the locker room and looking for older, wiser teammates to set an example.
Understandably, there’s more concern about who’ll lead the defense because that’s where the bulk of the subtractions unfolded. But the cupboard is far from bare.
All-Pro safety Earl Thomas has commanded the highest respect from the moment he set foot in the Under Armour Performance Center. Again, it doesn’t matter that he’s new here; his accomplishments automatically make him a player whom younger teammates look to, and it’s a role he seemingly embraces with a no-nonsense approach.
Thomas’ presence provides a quick answer to the question of who’ll lead this team. And he’ll have help on his side of the ball from Patrick “Peanut” Onwuasor, who has been challenged by the coaches to shoulder a larger leadership load; and also veterans such as Brandon Williams, Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr.
We’ll see how it all plays out – and that declaration in itself explains why questions are being asked. No doubt, the Ravens are dealing with a new normal in leadership this year.
But if you think it’s an issue keeping the team’s decision-makers awake at night, think again.