No. 52 gearing up for Year 17

Look at Ray Lewis' age (37), the amount of mileage he's put on his body in the NFL (222 regular season games plus 12 more in the playoffs), the number of tackles he's made (1,529), passes he's picked (31), fumbles he's forced (18) and recovered (19), and you might come to an interesting conclusion.

The Ravens' seven-time All-Pro linebacker isn't human at all. How can he be? He was a first-round pick in 1996. Stop and think about that: 1996.

Still going strong after all these years and gearing up for his 17th professional season, Lewis can only be a machine, maybe half-man, half-robot or the like, right?

Just consider these numbers from a study conducted by the NFL in 2011:

* The average career length for a player who makes an opening-game roster in his rookie season is 6.0 years.

* The average career length for a first-round pick is 9.3 years.

* The average career length for a player who makes at least one Pro Bowl is 11.7 years.

And worth repeating, Lewis is entering Year 17.

He has nearly doubled the career length of the average first-round pick, and smashed the length of time the average Pro Bowler plays.

So how does Lewis feel about the fact that he's stuck around that long?

"Honestly, when you're in the offseason and you're training, I just think it's something that I really learn about that game, is that I really appreciate it," he said Tuesday. "I just love playing the game, I love competition, and that's why I come back every year, every year, every year, because the competition of the game is what makes the game beautiful.

"The brotherhood that's in the locker room, that's what makes the game beautiful. So for me, being back here 17 years, honestly, feels like Year 1 again, because every year I embark upon something new. So, here we go, starting all over again."

As Lewis gets older and NFL rosters get younger, he admitted that it does strike him and he's becoming increasingly aware of his age and longevity.

ray lewis tackle sidebar.jpg"I speak to kids, and the last kid told me that he was in the second grade (when he first) saw me play, and now he's meeting me," Lewis said. "So I think it's just being blessed that I've been able to maintain through my injuries and through the ups and downs of this game. And I think it's a credit to my work ethic and just everything that I've bought into over the years.

"Every year, I'm always trying to change, always trying to come back better for my team. But I just think just to be around and see the different generations that have come up and come through, I think it's awesome. And I appreciate now the way Rod Woodson and Shannon Sharpe felt when they were at the stage in their careers to where they appreciated young guys like me. So I appreciate Ray (Rice), I appreciate Joe (Flacco), I appreciate Michael Oher and all those guys."

The logical question to a man who seems to be defying it simply by continuing to play the game he loves at the highest level: How much longer before you call it a career?

Lewis said he hasn't even thought about retirement yet.

"Seriously," he said. "I think I would be a very selfish person if I thought about that day, because until passion leaves you for the game, then that's impossible to think about, to ever think about walking away from what I've been born to do in one phase of my life.

"So, I can't tell you that, 'Hey man, this is my last year.' I would cheat every player in that room. ... Whenever it happens, let it happen for all us, and hopefully I am walking, and still doing the things that I am doing. But I love the game too much, and I have a great connection to Baltimore, and as long as I am playing and my body feels great, then I'll keep doing it."

Earlier this week, quite a bit was made of how Lewis is combating age. He reported to camp at his lightest weight in the NFL; "since I've probably walked in Baltimore," Lewis said.

He said part of the reason is advice from coaches - as the years go up, the weight should go down. It'll allow him to maintain speed and be a better fit for what has become more of a pass-happy league than when he was a rookie in 1996.

So Lewis is taking measures to succeed as he and other key members of the Ravens' defense get older. But it doesn't necessarily mean they're aged and declining. At least, Lewis doesn't think so.

"I think if we are (aging), all of the great defenses are still watching us in the playoffs, which is the ultimate," Lewis said. "We are finishing in the top 3-5 defenses every year, bottom line - fact."

Coach John Harbaugh told reporters he doesn't like the "Ravens defense is getting old" chatter one bit.

"I get mad as heck," he said. "It doesn't make me happy. But then I say, 'What do I care what they think?' It's great to be underestimated. That's a big advantage in life. They spread the word and tell everybody that we're old, over the hill and that the window is closing and all those great clichés they want to use, because they can't put a good article together.

"We'll take that. We'll take it every time."

Harbaugh will definitely take it if Lewis looks close to the same player he's always been in 2012. At age 37. In Year 17.