Source: USA TODAY
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — When Elvis Dumervil took the podium as the first Baltimore Raven to follow coach John Harbaugh after Wednesday’s offseason practice, reigning Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco gave the recently signed pass rusher grief from the back of a pack of reporters.
“What the hell, Elvis?!” Flacco said in his deadpan way.
It was a light jab from the new leader of a franchise facing life without Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Anquan Boldin and five other starters lost from the team that beat the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII fewer than four months ago.
“We lost some vocal leaders,” tight end Dennis Pitta said. “Joe’s not as vocal. But he’s always been a leader. He leads in a different way. He’s not as vocal a guy as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. But he leads in his own way, through example and his confidence in his own play.”
Harbaugh defused a question about facing life without Lewis, the team’s spiritual leader since it was uprooted from Cleveland and rechristened in Baltimore in 1996.
“Ray wasn’t here in the offseason anyway, so it’s (business) as usual,” Harbaugh said. “It’s normal. Ray’s always going to be a part of us. … As this team goes forward and tries to build it’s legacy, we’ll see what we can do with it.
“We’ll fill the leadership right up. I can see guys doing it already.”
Harbaugh added that nothing, not the Super Bowl performance or the new six-year, $120.6 million deal he signed in March is going to change the low-key, yet deceptively fiery Flacco.
“Joe’s been a great leader,” Harbaugh said. “Joe is going to be who he is. A change in the roster or his contract isn’t going to change Joe.”
So he won’t be the last Raven coming out of the tunnel at home games trying to fire up his teammates prior to kickoff?
“No, Joe won’t be doing the squirrel dance,” Harbaugh said, referencing Lewis’s signature way of amping his team and M&T Bank Stadium.
Dumervil is new to the Ravens, but he knows what can’t be done.
“You can’t replace a first-ballot Hall of Famer, probably one of the best players ever,” Dumervil said of Lewis (though the statement could easily apply to Reed, too). “All you can do is learn from the past. He set the tone. You have to learn from that and try to keep it going.
“You have to go out and play. Ray walked the walk and talked the talk.”
The cannon-armed Flacco set that tone on the second day of organized team activities, effortlessly flicking passes to Pitta, Torrey Smith, Ed Dickson, Tandon Doss and Deonte Thompson, the latter two attempting to emerge as the replacement for the traded Boldin.
Maybe the best thing Flacco radiates to his teammates is how unflappable and hard-working he remains in the wake of the massive post-Super Bowl overhaul.
“The only thing different is that I probably don’t know 80% of the guys names on our team at this point,” Flacco said on a day when veterans such as Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata skipped the workout.
“You can probably count on one hand how many guys were actually here five years ago who are still here today. That’s how much our team has changed over in that short period of time. … I’m excited about who we have.”
No question the Ravens have gotten younger. Time will tell if they’re good enough to become the first team since the 2004 New England Patriots to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
Despite his new, nine-figure deal and higher profile which led to appearances such as the one on Late Night with David Letterman, Flacco said what could have been a crazy offseason was anything but dizzying.
“It can get crazy I guess if you’re somebody who likes to do a lot of things and have a lot of opportunities present themselves,” Flacco said. “I don’t usually do that stuff anyway. So that’s pretty typical for me.
“It was a little bit more crazy right after the season, but it was all good stuff. It’s a spot you never know if you’re going to experience again. So you take advantage of them while you can. … And for the last little while I was able to relax a little bit and enjoy life as normal.”
It’s just a new normal with the Flacco-led, Lewis-less Ravens.
“I honestly don’t think too much about the contract,” said the quarterback as he prepares for his sixth NFL season. “I don’t have a Super Bowl ring yet, but I will in a couple of more weeks. And that’s all good.
“I can honestly say, those things aren’t things I think about everyday that set the way I perform. We’ve always had a locker room with so many guys who are so responsible. That’s why we’ve continued to have success.”
Spoken like the guy looking to continue that trend.
Follow Jim Corbett on Twitter @ByJimCorbett
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