The reality that Ray Lewis is gone won’t likely set in until a week from Sunday when someone else (Terrell Suggs, perhaps) is the last to emerge from the tunnel at M&T Bank Stadium.
Ed Reed’s departure might not be felt completely until Michael Huff, James Ihedigbo or Matt Elam pick off a pass and choose the safe route over shimmying and juking all over the field trying to reach the end zone.
Those two Ravens legends are, in fact, now gone and the era without the pair of future Hall of Famers begins with Thursday night’s season opener at the Denver Broncos.
Someone other than Lewis will be making the pregame speech and firing up the troops for the first time in years. Someone other than Reed will have to keep quarterbacks wary of going deep against Baltimore.
It will be different for everyone involved - the players who lined up beside them and the fans who stood behind them, especially when it comes to Lewis.
“Five-Two was special. There will never be another man who did it like he did it,” Suggs said. “Like I said at the start of training camp, we all will be held to that standard, and it really doesn’t matter who the guy in the middle is. Every man on this team will be held to the standard and the legacy that was built by him. And that’ll be that.”
Running back Ray Rice said he texted Lewis over the weekend and invited him to come to Denver for the game.
“And he said, ‘Man, you’re just trying to get me all crazy and riled up over here.’ I said, ‘You might have to make the trip,’ ” Rice said. “I think the guys, if he’s not going to be working, would embrace seeing him on the sideline. I’m not sure he’ll take it. He’ll probably want to suit up a little bit. I told him that it would be good to see him, because no matter what, everybody is always going to look up to you, what you’ve built in Baltimore will last forever.”
Following the retirement of Lewis and departure of Reed to Houston, the Ravens will have a different look, but not necessarily a worse one.
The defense is younger, and perhaps more athletic and faster. General manager Ozzie Newsome overhauled the unit by letting the likes of Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger and Cary Williams leave while signing linebacker Elvis Dumervil, safety Huff, linebacker Daryl Smith, defensive linemen Chris Canty and Marcus Spears, and by drafting the likes of Elam.
A healthy Suggs combined with the talented Dumervil could give the Ravens an unmatched pass rush. Suggs likes how the team has reloaded.
“We all live by that motto around here, ‘In Ozzie we trust,’ ” Suggs said. “In the spring, everybody was hitting the panic button on us because of the guys we lost. Even though we were very sad to see those guys go, the show must go on. In Ozzie we trust. He did a great job reloading the gun, so to say.”
Linebacker Albert McClellan explained that the defense is different now in that there is a lot more flexibility with the pieces assembled.
“We’ve got a lot of people that can play multiple positions. So we can disguise guys, we can do a lot of things with everybody,” he said. “We pretty much know that we’re not just set in stone like we’d usually be, which was a good thing in the past. But right now, I think we could be better because we’re not set in stone, we’re moving parts. ...
“We’re a little bit more versatile right now than what we might’ve been in the past.”
McClellan said the overhauled group is starting to get a feel for each other, but admits it will be strange to not have Lewis and Reed around for the first time.
“It’s going to be a little different,” he said. “Those guys, you knew what you were going to get. Now, we just have got to find the pieces that can catch up with it.”