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How Does John Harbaugh's Job Change Without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed?


When John Harbaugh stepped in front of a team meeting Monday at the start of the offseason conditioning program, it was a much different group looking back at him.

For the first time since he took over as head coach in 2008, he won't have future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed sitting across from him in the team meetings.

How will the departure of those two stars change Harbaugh's job?

"We'll find out," Harbaugh said Tuesday. "It will be the first time doing this job without those two guys on board, and those guys have been great. Having the opportunity to work with two players of that stature – iconic players – has been the opportunity of a lifetime."

Lewis retired after a 17-year career, and Reed signed with the Houston Texans in free agency after spending the last 11 seasons in Baltimore.

Losing those two players not only changes the face of the defense, but it alters the entire team dynamic. Both of them were leaders on the field and in the locker room, and Lewis has been the face of the franchise since coming into the league.

They built the Ravens defense into one of the NFL's best over the last decade, and etched their impact deep into Ravens history.

"It's something that I'm going to cherish, all of us are going to cherish," Harbaugh said. "Everybody in the building feels that way about those guys, and those relationships are not going anywhere. They're going to stay forever."

Adapting to life without Lewis isn't just new for Harbaugh. This is the first time since the team's original draft in 1996 that General Manager Ozzie Newsome is planning for life without dominant middle linebacker. 

"I think Ray is still here in spirit," Newsome said. "I was at a local restaurant deli on Sunday and they said, 'Ray just was in here the other day.' So, he is still in this community. Ray is still very much a part of this football team.  John and I were talking about the number of players that were on the squad when he got here that have been here five years with John right now. Ray has impacted those kids, those guys in our locker room.

"His impact is going to be felt within this organization and in this locker room for a long time. We talked to [Manti] Te'o, and they know about this locker room and Ray Lewis, so his impact is lasting."

Now the Ravens are turning to younger players to take over for both Lewis and Reed in the starting lineup and in leading the locker room.

Players like Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Jameel McClain, Ray Rice and Torrey Smith will all be counted to step up and fill the leadership void, and young players like Josh Bynes, Bryan Hall, Christian Thompson and Omar Brown will try to step into roles on the defense.

"Now the exciting opportunity is the other guys," Harbaugh said. "When you look at the faces of the guys in the building, when you stand in front of the room and you see the opportunity in guys' faces, they're excited about that.

"And as a coach, man, that gets your heart beating pretty well."

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