Ray Lewis is arguably the best in his craft when it comes to middle linebackers in the NFL. He has dominated the league since he was drafted by the Ravens in the first round back in 1996.
Many linebackers over the years have come and gone through the Ravens organization( Ed Hartwell, Bart Scott) and rode “Ray Ray’s” coat tails to success, but over the last two seasons, the Ravens feel like they have a versatile trio-each capable of doing different things- to supplement their All-Pro linebacker.
And with training camp less than a week away, all three of those linebackers-third year men in Tavares Gooden and Jameel McClain, as well as second-year veteran Dannell Ellerbe, feel good about the moves the Ravens did in the off-season and are ready to go prepare themselves for the upcoming 2010 year.
“We’ve made a lot of key additions,” Ellerbe, who made the squad last year after signing as a rookie free agent out of Georgia, told Rex Snider on his “Curing Cancer One Call at a Time Marathon” on Saturday. “We feel like we’re a Super Bowl contender. We have a lot of great guys.”
Jameel McClain, who saw time at both inside and outside linebacker over the last two seasons, says that while the team has some new faces, every single player added to this team has the ability to “Play Like a Raven” already ingrained in them.
“Being so close is hard, because everyone on this team is a competitor and everyone on this team works hard. We just want to go beyond. We want to be playing football until you can’t play football anymore,” McClain also told Snider Saturday night.
And while Gooden, Ellerbe, and McClain all have different skill sets, their desire to get beyond the second or third round of the AFC Playoffs-all the way to the Super Bowl-is consistent among these three, as well as the whole team.
“We had a lot of great guys last year… it just didnt go in our favor,” Ellerbe said.” A lot of people are putting pressure on us to win it, and that’s what we try and go out and do every year…win a Super Bowl.”
McClain agreed with his fellow teammate.
“There is a new attitude that,’ It’s time to get it done’. It’s time to get there. It’s time to take our game to the next step.”
And Gooden, the only one of the three to get drafted, said the only way they can prepare themselves to grind it out for a Super Bowl run is to fight it out in the intense, scorching heat next week at training camp at McDaniel College.
And if the team can become a more cohesive team quicker than any other team in the league, they’re one step ahead of the rest of the NFL-and one step closer-to another Super Bowl title that has eluded this franchise since the start of the decade, he says.
“You’ve got to make it smart and competitive at the same time. That way, you guys gel. The team that gels the fastest and can keep it together is the team that usually wins the Super Bowl,” Gooden said to Snider. “And I really feel like we have a plan for this off-season where we’re going to go in there and be smart this camp because we have a complete team this year.”
And that is exactly what Ellerbe, who started three games last year for the Ravens and registered 41 tackles and recorded one interception, McClain (30 tackles), and Gooden all have been doing by seeing more game action on Sundays.
They have contributed and become just another piece of the puzzle known as the Ravens defense, which very few teams in the league have been able to solve.
And with all these three, they attribute their success to the man they play next to, or behind, in Ray Lewis.
“Everybody in the NFL respects Ray Lewis for what’s he’s done…and what he’s accomplished,” McClain said, “but he is a good man in general and such a great teacher. He’ll take the information and make it easier for you to process.”
“It’s his motivational skills and his knowledge of the game. And if you could see how someone like that works, and you see how he got to the pedestal that he’s at, it’s only common sense that you would want to walk in those same footsteps,” McClain continued.
Ellerbe said that it has been guidance from a guy like Lewis that turned him from a dazed and confused rookie out of Georgia to an NFL linebacker capable of starting in the league.
“Last year, I came in blind and didn’t know what to do. It was just going with the flow. This year, I know how everything’s mapped out.”
Really, if you look at the entire Ravens team as a whole, these three, along with the entire linebacker corps, are a testament to how much depth the Ravens have at every position.
“We have three-deep at every position, so its going to be tough for teams to come into M&T Bank Stadium and get wins,” Gooden said. “And Im talking, we need to win every home game. That should be a top priority. When teams come into Baltimore, they should fear us.”
McClain said his versatility has been a great asset to Coach Greg Mattison and Rex Ryan over the last two years.
I’m just trying to put myself in a perfect position out here,” McClain said. “Mainly it’s a lot of linebacker specific and making sure I have the knowledge of the defense in a lot of positions so I’ll be able to go wherever I’m told to go whenever I’m called.”
For years, the Ravens defense has been known for its ability to create mismatches through substitutions. Now Gooden said with the additions of Anquan Boldin, Donte Stallworth, Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson in the off-season, the Ravens offense may be taking a page out of their book.
“On offense, it’s tough for another defense to withstand all that firepower. And I really think Boldin and Stallworth are going to add to it. We’re going to catch them on their heels. They’re going to be tired. It’s going to be fun…that’s all I’m going to say,” replied Gooden.
“I know Cam has some packages and some plays to feature some of these guys. How can you prepare to defend 10-11 different guys? People are going to have to really worry about our offense this year.”
And while opposing offensive coordinators now also have to worry and focus on Ray Lewis’ backups, these same three players aren’t about to let that success go to their head.
“I think at the end of the day you always have to improve yourself because the game changes and your body changes too,” McClain said. “With me understanding more of this game, it’s just understanding a defense.”
“I know I’m right there ready to go, but there’s always something to learn. You never perfect at what you do. I’m just going to study as much as I can, and try and get more offensive recognition down.
For Gooden, his situation last year was much different than McClain or Ellerbe because more was expected out of him. Both he and the Ravens knew the potential was there. His problem was just being healthy on the field, which he was able to do for the first time last year after the Ravens drafted him in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
“You can’t do anything when it comes down to injury. That’s just all God’s will,” Gooden said to Snider.
“There was a little bit of pressure last year. I went out there and competed with people for a job, and I ended up winning the job. It’s going to be the same thing every year. I know I have the physical capabiltiies to do what a lot of linebackers in the NFL can’t do.”
Gooden responded with 47 tackles in 12 starts next to Ray Lewis.
And when Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta both saw their Raven youngsters producing last fall, and said “Hey…let’s make sure this keeps happening.”
So, in order for that to remain “status quo”, Newsome in the offseason went out and signed Cory Redding away from the Lions, once the highest-paid lineman in the NFL.
And then they drafted Arthur Jones in the fifth round out of Syracuse, who had day-one talent, and Terrence aka “Mount” Cody out of Alabama to make sure that their D-line collapses the pocket and allows these linebackers to roam free.
These three linebackers thank Newsome every day for those moves, and they are ready to respond even more by their play on the field.
“When you’ve got a big guy like Haloti [Ngata] that eat up one or two lineman…you get to make plays,” Ellerbe said. “Football is a lot harder when you have to get off lineman to make plays. It easier when you get to roam free.”
Keep them off me,” Gooden said in the off-season. “That was one of the things I struggled with.”
“Those bigger guys are going to help me out tremendously, at a standpoint of keeping those offensive guards off me and letting me run around and show off the 4.4 speed.”
McClain had previous experience with one of these three lineman in particular in Arthur Jones, who McClain played with at Syracuse. And when the Ravens came to him in March asking about his potential, McClain had nothing but good things to say about his former Orange teammate, who is now clad in purple with him.
“I have a personal experience with Arthur… and I know this guy is a force to be reckoned with,” McClain said.
Gooden meanwhile is most happy to see the immovable object known only as the 360 lb-plus Mount Cody, who could take up two, maybe even three defensive lineman, on a single play just to hold in place.
“When you have Big Cody taking up a least two people, that’s two extra guys who arent able to come off to the linebackers and make a play because of his size and his athleticism. I cant wait to get into trianing camp and see how these guys hold up in pads also,” Gooden said, hearing the anticipation in his voice.
These three players actually seem to be excited to be going to training camp next week in a way. But don’t get your hopes up. They all said next week is going to be start of a grind and a living hell, but it’s the necessary work they have to put in to earn the Super Bowl title at the end of the road.
McClain said he has just been thinking about other things to get his mind off the July and August heat at McDaniel. One thing in particular has really cooled his mind.
“I’ve been thinking about it the last three weeks. The only thing I can think about is the Best Western,” McClain said, referring to the hotel the Ravens stay at on Route 140 off McDaniel’s campus. I don’t know how I’m going to get by, but I’m going to get by… You get to see the fans and the fans get to see you practice, but man…that Best Western.”
WNST thanks Raven linebackers Dannell Ellerbe, Tavares Gooden, and Jameel McClain for their appearances during Rex Snider’s “Curing Cancer-One Call At A Time” Marathon on Saturday benefiting Harbor Hospital’s Cancer Center.
WNST and You helped raise over 11,000 dollars for Harbor Hospital. The telethon ended Saturday, but there is still chances to give. Follow the link here if you feel the need to help those in need.
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