Lewis Thinks 14 Might Be His Best

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Bounding around the practice field like a rookie, it would be difficult for the untrained eye to understand that linebacker Ray Lewis is entering his 14th NFL season.

Lewis, 34, is still playing with a teenager's love of football. It's evident in his smile. It shows in the way he playfully barks at the offense. And it is obvious when he is giving commands to a dominant defense that he helped create.

While Lewis may be an elder statesman in the locker room, he believes 2009 will be his best year yet.

"I think I'm probably better now because I'm just wiser," he said. "Talent fades – wisdom never fades. Wisdom grows. That's why I'm a better player, because I can make my team better. I can make guys better around me. Making plays, for me, on a football field is the easiest thing I can wake up and do."

It's hard to argue with him.

Since the Ravens made him the franchise's second-ever draft pick in 1996 – offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden was the first – Lewis has led Baltimore in tackles every year he has played in at least 14 games.

That includes 2008, when he posted a whopping 160 stops, adding 3.5 sacks and three interceptions.

Throughout his gaudy tenure, Lewis has played under multiple defensive coordinators. The last three, Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan and Rex Ryan, have all gone on to become head coaches. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh thinks Lewis is the main reason why the defense is annually ranked among the league's best.

"Ray is the guy that's been here since the beginning. If it's anybody's defense, it's Ray's defense," Harbaugh stated. "Obviously, a great tradition has been built here, and you've got to say that he's what it's been built around."

Lewis is confident that the Ravens will continue their tradition now that Greg Mattison is stepping into the coordinator role, taking over for Ryan, who is now coaching the New York Jets.

"We've seen coordinators come in and out," Lewis said. "We're going to always stick to our identity with who we are. Congratulation to Rex. Go ahead and do your thing at the Jets, but we're Ravens. We're Ravens for life, and that's an honor.

"The way we play defense is our mentality – it's not a coach's mentality – it's the way we play. Whoever comes and goes, it was good playing with you, but it's time to go on."

There was a chance that Lewis might not have even donned a purple No. 52 jersey this year. Lewis tested the waters of free agency for the first time in his career, but ended signing a seven-year contract with Baltimore.

"I don't want to ever go anywhere," Lewis explained. "I'm bred here, I started my career here and I'm going to end my career here. I would never go put on another uniform and play for one year, two years. No, it's just not worth it. It's not worth what's invested in my city, what I give back to my city off the field and what my city gives back to me. There's no greater reward than that."

When asked if he flirted with other teams, Lewis said, "I flirt when I pass by a beautiful woman walking down the street. That doesn't mean I talk to her."

Lewis came into training camp in some of the best shape of his life. Shortly after last season ended in the AFC Championship game, he began his typically-rigorous training program and shed 15 pounds from his muscular 6-foot-1 frame.

The lighter linebacker figures he'll be quicker sideline to sideline.

In fact, Lewis feels so good that he wants to play out the length of his contract, which ends in 2015.

"Anytime I feel as good as I feel, and I can keep leading these men the way I lead these men, life keeps going," said Lewis. "The one thing about me is when I'm done, I'm done. I'm not going to keep going back and forth. That's why I train the way I train – that when I do step back on the field, it's like I can just go have fun again."

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