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Eisenberg: Veteran Leadership Is One Of Ravens' Best Attributes


I don't know how the Ravens will fare in the final weeks of the 2016 season, but I do know this: If they fall short of their goals, it won't be due to a lack of leadership.

The suggestion that they're lacking leaders arises intermittently, usually after a loss. It became a hot talking point during the four-game losing streak in October.

But leadership wasn't a problem then and it still isn't now that the Ravens are faring better and tied for first place in the AFC North heading into Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins.

I think the subject comes up because Ray Lewis and Ed Reed patrolled the Ravens' locker room and sideline for more than a decade through 2012, and by all accounts, were highly effective leaders in an era when the team won a lot of games. The fact that they're gone now gives rise to the notion of a vacuum.

But the Ravens' roster is stocked with locker room elders such as Eric Weddle, Terrell Suggs, Joe Flacco, Marshal Yanda and Steve Smith Sr., who control the environment and counsel younger players.

Honestly, though it gets talked about a lot, I think the whole issue is somewhat overrated in terms of its correlation to the Ravens' won-loss record. Leadership is a nice asset, but having good football players is a whole lot more important.

Nonetheless, leadership is a factor for the Ravens, as it is for any team. The definition is the ability to influence and/or inspire others.

Lewis and Reed approached the role differently, one taking the limelight, the other working behind the scenes. Similarly, the Ravens' current core leads in different ways.

Weddle, in his first year with the Ravens, brings experience and the same exhaustive film-room work ethic that Lewis and Reed provided. His teammates look to him to know what to do in many situations.

He also has such a relentlessly positive attitude that Head Coach John Harbaugh jokingly rolled his eyes after Weddle enthusiastically addressed reporters following a recent win. "Now you see what I get to deal with every day," Harbaugh said.

Weddle's bona fides as a leader in Baltimore were cemented after the Ravens' disappointing loss to Dallas when he looked at Harbaugh in the locker room and declared, "I got this," then told his teammates, "I believe this will be a defining moment in our season."

Suggs' leadership skills remained untapped for most of his career because Lewis and Reed had that covered, but he "has emerged as a phenomenal leader," Harbaugh said this week. The man also known as "Hacksaw Smithers" does attract attention with his extroverted personality, but if you cut through the noise and listen carefully, he relentlessly preaches a team-first ideology.

He's also playing terrific football with a torn biceps muscle. Talk about setting an example.

Neither Flacco nor Yanda has that kind of personality – they're taciturn and prefer to let their practice habits and on-field performances do their talking.

But Yanda doesn't need to say a word. He's so into working hard that Harbaugh printed up T-shirts bearing his motto: "Embrace the grind." And like Suggs, Yanda plays with injuries that would sideline others, setting an example.

Flacco's leadership is endlessly scrutinized, as is everything involving the franchise quarterback. My two cents, he sets the tone for the entire team on Sundays with his unflappable nature, battling on regardless of the score. And the next time I hear him criticize a teammate will be the first time – no small thing.

As for the fiery Smith, well, I'll let his Ravens teammate, Mike Wallace, do the talking:

"I haven't been on the team very long, but he's a great leader, one of the best I've been around from an emotional standpoint, the intensity he brings to the game. Everybody has no choice but to feed off of it," Wallace said about Smith recently.

Wallace recounted telling Smith, "Even if you don't catch a pass, it doesn't matter — just your presence brings this team to a whole other level."

If the Ravens don't get where they want to go in 2016, the explanation could center on any one of several issues: the offense's inconsistency, penalties, injuries. But not an absence of leadership. In fact, the influence of charismatic veterans is one of the Ravens' most positive attributes.

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