John Harbaugh, Ray Lewis React To Passing Of Muhammad Ali
It's probably no coincidence that before the Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII, they were visited by boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
Ali had that type of effect on people, influencing them to reach for and obtain greatness. He transcended the world of boxing. He transcended the world of sports.
The 2012 Baltimore Ravens were the last NFL team to have Ali in-house, according to TheMMQB.com's Peter King.
Even the Ravens' biggest stars were star struck, crowding around the champ like young boys do for a picture with their childhood hero, including Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin, Haloti Ngata, Torrey Smith, Ray Rice and Joe Flacco.
Head Coach John Harbaugh's father, Jack, was a huge Ali fan. So on the eve of the 2012 season-opener, he accompanied Ali to the Ravens facility and related an inspiring story he had told his teams at Western Kentucky. "WHAT'S MY NAME?" was what Ali yelled at opponent Ernie Terrell over and over in a fight because Terrell refused to call Ali by his new name after he changed it from Cassius Clay upon his Muslim conversion.
Harbaugh reflected on that memorable visit after Ali's passing this weekend at the age of 74. Ali had been reportedly suffering from a respiratory illness, a condition that was complicated by Parkinson's disease.
"Muhammad Ali was my dad's hero," Harbaugh told King on Saturday. "When we brought him in, the faces on our players just dropped. They went crazy. For many of them, this was the idol of their dads and uncles and people in their families. Muhammad was frail, but the eyes – the eyes, man. He was still the intense, driven guy I remembered. He kind of changed the world, didn't he? That day, you did sort of feel you were in the presence of someone really important, like the Pope."
King asked Harbaugh about why Ali was the one of the most significant athletes of the last 75 years, but the head coach struggled to put it into words. Who can adequately do so in a brief Q&A?
"It's hard to put the whole story together," Harbaugh said. "Jackie Robinson was the perfect man for his time, and handled his role perfectly. Then Ali comes along at such a turbulent time, and he's a change agent too, acting differently. They both made history."
Lewis, a future Hall of Famer, took to Twitter to talk about his time with Ali and the lessons he learned about how to become one of the greatest of all time.
"Still can't believe I had the opportunity to meet this man ... words can't describe how much I admired his confidence and work outside of the ring," Torrey Smith added in an Instagram post. "… It's important to recognize those who paved a way for you ... and those who helped change the way folks view you ... Muhammad Ali helped make this world a better place ... Thank You!!!! RIP"
Ali dedicated his life after boxing to charity work and helping people around the world, which has specifically inspired new Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson, who also takes great pride in getting involved in the community.
"It's just really sad. It was a loss obviously for sports. It's a loss for the world in general because of all the humanitarian work that he did," Watson said in the NFL Network video below. "He was, and will continue to be, such an inspiration to so many generations of players, in all sports, and people in general in all walks of life. He was one of those athletes that transcended sports and encouraged people to do better things for the fellow man.
"When I think of Muhammad Ali, I think about the videos of him with children, I think of him traveling the world, I think of him being an ambassador for the sport, but also just for kindness, for generosity. As an athlete, being able to emulate the charisma that he had, understanding that being in my position is a privilege, it's not necessarily a right, and being able to use that platform for good."
If Correa Wants To Start, He May Have To Switch Positions
Ravens second-round pick Kamalei Correa was brought to Baltimore to be an outside linebacker that can get after the quarterback, but he may want to temporarily switch positions in order to see the football field more frequently.
"The Ravens are going with Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil on the outside this year, which means Correa won't be playing there extensively unless an injury occurs," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "If Correa wants to start as a rookie, he'll have to take an inside path to the lineup."
The Ravens also have second-year outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith to help fill in after the departure of Courtney Upshaw, along with fifth-round rookie Matthew Judon. The Ravens will probably need Correa more at outside linebacker in the future, but they have a greater need right now at inside linebacker.
Baltimore did not bring in a veteran or use a draft pick on a player that could help fill the shoes of Daryl Smith, who has been the team's leading tackler in two of the last three seasons.
"Maybe that's why Correa was spending time at inside linebacker during the Ravens' latest offseason practice," Hensley wrote. "We are seeing less of a distinction between inside and outside linebackers because those lining up in the middle have to be just as athletic to cover that part of the field against the pass. … Correa was considered one of the most versatile linebackers in this year's draft."
We don't know how serious the Ravens are about giving Correa a shot at inside linebacker. Reporters saw him work in just one OTA practice open to the media. The team has three other potential starters in Zachary Orr, Arthur Brown and Albert McClellan, even though they are all unproven as starters.
"Since only a small portion of the offseason practice season is open to media, everything that does get seen gets magnified, sometimes too much," my colleague John Eisenberg wrote Saturday. "I have no doubt the Ravens are excited about seeing what Correa can do at different spots, but his specialty, getting to the quarterback, is best honed on the outside. I still think that's where we're most liable to see him in 2016."
Can One Of Three Ravens Win Comeback Player Of The Year?
When about half of your offense lands on injured reserve, along with several of your cornerstone players, there's a chance you'll see one of them become the 2016 Comeback Player of the Year.
Of the many, many players expected to return this season, CSNMidAtlantic.com's Clifton Brown sees three Ravens that could win the award:
QB Joe Flacco: "Flacco had never missed a start until last season, and has fully adjusted to Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman's system. If Flacco stays healthy, there's a chance he could have his best statistical season with more weapons around him."
OLB Terrell Suggs: "It's a lot to expect Suggs to be a double-digit sack artist, after his second serious Achilles injury, but Suggs is a prideful player, who should be motivated to prove he can still be a three-down linebacker."
WR Steve Smith Sr.: "Smith didn't want to end his career with an Achilles [injury]. So he's back for another season, and surely driven to silence anyone who thinks he won't be an impact player."
Pro Bowl Switching Back To AFC vs. NFC Format – Will It Matter?
Welp, so much for the draft experiment at the Pro Bowl.
In 2013, the league went to a nonconference-squad format that featured past NFL legends drafting from a pool of Pro Bowl players. The hope was that it would drum up more interest for the all-star game.
But after trying it for a few years, the league will switch back to the traditional format of AFC vs. NFC Pro Bowlers when it travels to Orlando in January.
Something tells me Baltimore Beatdown's Chuck Mills doesn't care for either format, or the Pro Bowl altogether.
"The players don't even take it seriously," he wrote. "There were 41 alternates at last year's Pro Bowl. That's 41 guys who were only in the Pro Bowl because the player who was actually voted to the Pro Bowl had to prepare for a game that actually mattered [the Super Bowl] or because they just didn't feel like showing up.
"The NFL can select the Pro Bowl teams in whatever way they want. The fact of the matter is that the Pro Bowl is alternates going up against alternates for cash and a participation trophy."