The Shutdown Corner Interview: Ray Lewis

Ray Lewis(notes) has defined the position of inside linebacker as much as it has been possible to do in his era, a fact that puts his name on a very short list of the game's all-time greats. But the most intriguing thing I took away from my recent conversation with Lewis is that after 15 years in the NFL, he doesn't see the end coming at all. At 35, Lewis is as defiant in the face of Father Time as he has always been. I caught him on the phone from an Under Armour photo shoot, where he was promoting the Recharge product line. We discussed labor issues, his responsibilities as a coach on the field, his legacy, and how he's beaten the odds from a durability perspective in a sport in which the average career is about one-fifth of the one he's put together.

Shutdown Corner: First of all, I wanted to ask you about the Under Armour Recharge gear and how it helps you recover from the effects of practices and games. How do you use it?

Ray Lewis: If you think about it from the compression standpoint, it does a great job of keeping your muscles compressed after games, while you're sleeping - I even wear them on airplanes. Because of all the fatigue you go through on airplanes ... I just like the fact that I don't feel as fatigued after I use it.

SC: You've spoken out against the 18-game schedule, and I just wanted to get your specific thoughts on that. And what's your take on the CBA discussions overall?

RL: From a CBA standpoint, whatever is going on, you have to let it take care of itself. On the 18-game schedule, I just think that ... not to disrespect anybody, but the people who want an 18-game schedule - I would want them to play 18 games, too. 16 games is already enough. The injury totals are already going up year after year. If you're talking about adding two more games, you're talking about adding more injuries. And in prolonging the season ... we barely have an offseason as it is now to let our bodies recover and get ready for more football. I just think that it doesn't benefit the players at all. You can talk about the business, but the business only exists because of the players. If it doesn't benefit the players, ultimately, it won't benefit the game, either.

SC: Especially for positions like inside linebacker, where you're around the ball all the time and asked to do all kinds of different things. Per Football Outsiders' statistics, you had your highest number of targeted plays (141) since 2004, and have maintained a high performance into your mid-thirties. I know that physically, you still have a great deal of what you've always had, but was there a point in your career where, as your football intellect improved over time, you actually beat that whole "If I knew then what I know now" thing?

RL: I don't think it's a point that you can point out. I just think it's that every year is another year for wisdom, and every year, you learn something new. When you start out early in your career, you're kind of running around with your head cut off. But when you mature into the game, you start to really appreciate the business side of things - how to study, how to watch film, how to watch this, how to watch that. How to prepare for games and practices, and things like that. It's just like anything; you gain wisdom through understanding. That's what has gotten me here. I don't know if there's a point like that, but it is something that you learn every day.

SC: Is there one thing you can point to in explaining how you've maintained a high physical standard on the field over all these seasons in a sport that is designed to beat a body down?

RL: I just think that I train totally differently. I don't train for football; I train more for a lifestyle. I do so much, and it's not just football-specific things. You see a lot of these guys; they just do football-specific things, and that ain't what life is about. Life is about being a versatile athlete and training in all realms of life. That's why I try any form of [martial] art - kempo, taekwondo, karate, whatever it is. Then moving into boxing and wrestling, and that's what I think helps your body out, when you try all these different things. Because a football game is just sixty minutes, but I'm training six, seven hours in every day. So, going for sixty minutes becomes easy. More importantly, I think that your muscles mature and can move in all different directions.

So, if I give any credit, besides giving all credit to God, for being totally healthy, it's just my workout and how much torture I put my body through in the offseason.

SC: The Ravens' defense has maintained a very high standard over the last decade though 4-3 to 3-4 switches, different coordinators, and new personnel except for you. You're the obvious common denominator, but what else has kept that standard so high?

RL: I can't go outside of me, you know? It's like you said, everything has changed - from coaches to coordinators to players ... everything. There's nothing that's the same over the last decade, and the only thing that remains is me. Not to talk about me, but I'm just saying -- that's one thing that the coaches really trust me about. To keep everything intact and keep everyone playing the way they're supposed to play. That's my job. The coaches' job is to give us the playbook, and show us what you want to do, but my job is to evaluate my players and get the best out of them - what I know they can do. I think that's one of my greatest gifts - to be able to [help teammates] pull out of themselves what they thought they could never do. It's what I dedicate to the game, to help players around me. It's been that way from Day One around here - no matter who's the coach, no matter who's the coordinator.

SC: The Ravens come into the 2010 season with a very impressive offensive line built through the draft. Ray Rice(notes) is a star, Joe Flacco(notes) is maturing, and Anquan Boldin(notes) brings a new dimension to the passing game. Has the offense finally caught up with its defense after all these years, and should that make your team a Super Bowl favorite?

RL: I don't know - so much has to happen. You can only play one game at a time, and if you jump to the Super Bowl [conclusion] too quick, it won't happen. We have to get to the end of the year completely healthy first. Are the additions that we picked up good ones? Absolutely. We picked up some quality people. But at the same time, if you look at the Saints last year, I think they had one injury that was reported [through the whole year -- left tackle Jammal Brown(notes)]. If we can get into January and February with something like that, I think we have a good chance. But we just have to go into our opener and try to get that out of the way. Week after week, just bang 60 minutes out, and at the end of the day, we'll see where we are.

SC: We're coming around to Hall of Fame time again - you're a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer when your time comes. Do you think about your ...

RL: No! I can't think about that.

SC: You don't think about your link in the legacy of great NFL linebackers - from Butkus to Lambert to Singletary to you?

RL: I can't think about that or the Hall of Fame - I'm still going. I've got to think about that when my day is done. It will [enter my mind] when I slow down, but I still tell people nowadays - you go find a 20-year-old [linebacker], and put him next to me at 35, and you tell me what he can do better than me.

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