Ray Lewis knows what it takes to be great. When he looks at Marshal Yanda, Lewis sees a player who has earned a place next to him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Yanda's retirement after a brilliant 13-year career makes him eligible for enshrinement in Canton in five years – 2025. He will be in a class that includes Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, Giants quarterback Eli Manning and former teammate and safety Eric Weddle, to name a few.
As an eight-time Pro Bowl guard, Yanda clearly established himself as one of the finest offensive linemen of his era. Offensive linemen can't pile up flashy stats or plays to strengthen their case for enshrinement, but Yanda checks all the boxes – consistency, longevity, a Super Bowl ring and the respect of his peers.
Lewis and Yanda were teammates for six seasons, and the first-ballot Hall of Fame linebacker is sold on Yanda's credentials. Not only was Yanda a great player, he had a blue-collar mentality that Lewis admired.
"It's what your peers felt," Lewis said on "The Lounge" podcast. "That's a construction worker. From the first day he walked in there, man, I said, 'That's a construction worker right there.' That a person who's coming to work every day. That's what you build a really successful team around, people who come to work every day."
Lewis said he and Yanda wouldn't attack each other physically in training camp as hard as they could have. What's the sense of having a Pro Bowl linebacker and a Pro Bowl guard beat each other up during training camp? They saved that punishment for opponents.
"Me and Yanda had a nice little buddy system," Lewis said with a laugh.
But there was nothing funny about Yanda's mental approach on gameday. Lewis gave Yanda advice early in his career, telling him to play angry. Yanda took that to heart.
Looking into his eyes during pregame warmups was scary. Family members and his teammates knew better than to make small talk with Yanda before kickoff. He refused to take pre-game pictures even with his family, so he had no photos in uniform until after the final game of his 13-year career.
"Ray talked about flipping the switch," Yanda said in March after his retirement press conference. "Play this game pissed off. If you want to play consistent for 16-plus games going into the playoffs, you gotta play mad. When Sunday hits, there's got to be that hair that goes off on the back of your neck. For four hours, you better be ready to chew on some nails and chew a guy's leg off to get it done.
"When I wake up Sunday morning, there's no smiling no laughing. That is an edge that a lot of players don't take advantage of."
Yanda said he was not going to worry about his Hall of Fame chances. He never played the game for accolades.
"I'm a humble guy," Yanda said. "If that happens, great. I'm not expecting anything. I feel very fortunate. That would be awesome, but there's no pressure."
Lewis says Yanda's career speaks for itself, and that he should feel secure he earned a place in Canton.
"I wouldn't even want him to stress out over it," Lewis said. "Marshal Yanda to me is much more than just a teammate. He's a brother that I would go in the trenches with any day of the week. That's what a Hall of Famer is to me. Somebody who shows up every day and puts in work.
"When people talk about them … the conversation changes at Thanksgiving. It ain't cute. 'Oh, how did it feel to play against Marshal Yanda? Oh, that [guy] was tough. He was tough.'
"That's what a Hall of Famer is to me, somebody like Marshal Yanda."