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Mike Preston: With key veterans gone, leadership takes a new turn for Ravens

BALTIMORE – The lack of leadership heading into the 2019 season is a topic of discussion for the Ravens, but it shouldn’t be a major problem.

They still will be missing what they haven’t had since the end of 2012 season, when middle linebacker Ray Lewis retired: a great player with charisma and a dynamic personality. But a lot of teams don’t have a Ray Lewis.

Fortunately, the Ravens recently signed former Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas. Thomas already has made his presence felt with the Ravens, even though he is a quiet leader. His play speaks volumes with six Pro Bowl selections and 684 total tackles.

“I think that’s one thing I have to start learning how to build is leadership,” Ravens linebacker Patrick Onwuasor said. “I met with Earl (Thomas). Tony (Jefferson, Ravens safety) brought Earl around, and that was the first thing Earl said, was ‘We’re going to work on your leadership,’ and that’s something that I kind of shy away from, too. I’m kind of soft-spoken. I like staying away a bit. I think if I start working on my leadership, it would probably be great for us.”

When asked if Thomas was stepping into a leadership role Onwuasor said, “Yes, I’m seeing that a lot, yes.”

There are a lot of questions about leadership because the Ravens lost key veterans such as quarterback Joe Flacco, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, safety Eric Weddle and middle linebacker C.J. Mosley during the offseason. It was time for the Ravens to move on, but those players will be missed.

“I can look back in 2017 when I walked in Day One, and I see all those faces – and then you walk in Day One in 2019, and they aren’t there,” Jefferson said. “It’s obviously something you definitely don’t notice. So, those guys are big, big talents in the NFL, and what they’ve done here in the organization, I don’t think you can really speak for it. Words can’t really describe what they mean to everybody in this building, but that’s how the business works.

“Like I said, it’s Year 7 (for me). I’ve seen it all. And, it may not have been how we wanted it to roll, but we have to roll either way. I have to be a leader back there, and with the new additions, we have some veteran leadership coming in as well to help with that.”

Leadership is provided in different ways and in different manners. Weddle and Suggs were pump-up guys and motivators. Flacco and Mosley were quiet, but all except Mosley were past their primes. Mosley was a leader on the field, as far as making tackles and calling signals. He might be the most difficult to replace.

Thomas is in the mold of former Ravens safety Ed Reed in terms of studying film and getting his teammates in the correct alignments. He isn’t the warmest person, but well-respected in the locker room. Defensive tackle Brandon Williams should emerge as a leader this season, along with outside linebacker Matthew Judon and Jefferson.

Onwuasor has to step up his game especially if he replaces Mosley.

“I’m really comfortable wearing the headset,” Onwuasor said. “I wore it in practice. Just listening to ‘Wink’ (defensive coordinator Don Martindale) relay the calls … C.J. (Mosley) wasn’t the only one talking. You have 11 guys on the field. Eleven guys are talking. When that play comes in, we’re all communicating. That’s one of the big things we have with our defense is that we talk a lot.

“I have ‘T.J.’ (Tony Jefferson) behind me, letting me know what have to do, and I tell the D-Line what they have to do, so we all communicate.”

The lack of leadership could show up on offense. The Ravens haven’t had a dynamic presence on that side of the ball since receiver Steve Smith Sr. retired in 2016, and before that it was tight end Shannon Sharpe at the turn of the century. Flacco and right guard Marshal Yanda have consistently been the top performers for the last couple of years, but they weren’t very vocal.

Can quarterback Lamar Jackson or tight end Mark Andrews be the next to take over in their second seasons with the team?

“Yes, I think if you look at any player, if you were to study how they walk into the building as a rookie, and then how they walk into the building as a second-year player, you’ll see a huge difference,” Jefferson said. “I know it was for me, and I know it was for a lot of the players, the rookies, last year.

“Lamar is our quarterback. It’s his team. We’re following his lead. We know how big of a leader he can be, and how special he can be on the football field. We’re dependent on him, and we know he’s putting in the work that’s needed.”

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The Baltimore Ravens' Patrick Onwuasor (48) tackles Indianapolis Colts running back Frank Gore at M & T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on December 23, 2017. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun/TNS)

The Baltimore Ravens’ Patrick Onwuasor (48) tackles Indianapolis Colts running back Frank Gore at M & T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on December 23, 2017. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun/TNS)

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