John Harbaugh Confident In Replacement Linebackers


The Ravens have been in a position of filling in for Ray Lewis before.

They had to find a replacement for four games last year when Lewis was out with a toe injury.

Now with Lewis out for the rest of this season with a torn triceps muscle, Baltimore is in search of a full-time answer. They don't have to look far.

According to Head Coach John Harbaugh, the team will turn to last year's candidates: Jameel McClain, Dannell Ellerbe and possibly outside linebacker Albert McClellan.

All three are former undrafted rookie free agents. They also all have starting experience in Baltimore.

"Those guys have played a lot of football. We have a lot of confidence in those guys," Harbaugh said. "So we feel good about that."

McClain has received credit for starting all six games next to Lewis thus far this season. But he and Ellerbe have essentially split the role with McClain handling more run situations and Ellerbe defending more against the pass.

They both may be thrust into starting positions now. Ellerbe started three of the four games when Lewis was out last year. He made 11 total tackles in those games.

"I feel like I'm up for it," Ellerbe said Tuesday. "I feel like I've been waiting for this for four years. I know I can do it, everybody else sees I can do it. I just have to go out there and do it."

McClain took over the on-field, play-calling duties for Lewis last year when he went down. He'll once again likely move into a leadership position on a young linebacker corps that will mainly be held together by himself, Ellerbe, McClellan, Paul Kruger and rookie Courtney Upshaw.

"It's definitely important for us to step up our game to another level," McClain said. "It's football. This game always changes. Sometimes you just lose players and everybody just knows they have to step up and we prepare for this."

McClellan, who was a college defensive end that converted to outside linebacker, slid to the middle for his first time in his career at inside linebacker and started against San Francisco on Thanksgiving last year. He made four stops in the 16-6 victory.

The Ravens defense can take solace in the fact that it performed well without Lewis in the four games last year. They gave up  just 50 combined points in four games and notched a win in each.

With Lewis sidelined, Baltimore held then Cincinnati running back Cedric Benson to 41 rushing yards, San Francisco's Frank Gore to 39, Cleveland's Peyton Hillis to 45 and Indianapolis' Donald Brown to 28.

"[That's] probably something that would give some guys some confidence," Harbaugh said.

The Ravens have already had to deal with the loss of outside linebacker Terrell Suggs for the start of this season. Now with Lewis and cornerback Lardarius Webb sidelined for the rest of the year, their ability to replace their starters and overcome will be essential.

"Obviously that's going to define what we are able to accomplish this year," Harbaugh said. "So that's something that we are going to need to do from a leadership standpoint and from a playing standpoint."

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