It's official from the medical standpoint--- inside linebacker extraordinaire Ray Lewis is gone for the season (and possibly forever) with a torn triceps muscle, and all-world cornerback Lardarius Webb is done for the year too with a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in his left knee...The Ravens at least have the knowledge that their overall team leader Ray Lewis will still be available on the sidelines to inspire and motivate his teammates. Heck, Lewis was basically another coach on the field anyways. That part will not change.But after 17 years of meeting and greeting opposing players in battle, the active part of Ray Lewis' career may have just ended.Lewis had lost a step or two in both run and pass coverage over the past two years anyway. That much is well known. But his signal-calling and spiritual leadership for the Ravens defense had never diminished.Lardarius Webb is another story. He had just emerged as one of the best coverage cornerbacks in the NFL after recovering from an early ACL injury setback in his career... and now a second devastating injury to the same knee. His NFL career as a player may be over, too.Thus Webb's story is more tragic than Lewis', since Ray has a Super Bowl ring to go along with about 20 individual Ravens' defensive records over his long career... and Lewis is a sure-fire bet to enter the NFL Hall of Fame when it's all over.What all of this means in real time is ILB Jameel McClain and CB Jimmy Smith have got to step up big time against the Houston Texans this Sunday.Jameel McClain, 6-1, 245, 5th year out of Syracuse, is the heir apparent to the ILB spot vacated by the injury to Ray Lewis...Dannell Ellerbee, at 6-1 and 240 in his 4th year out of Georgia, will also be trying to fill the shoes of Ray Lewis in his absence...but McClain will be getting most of the key reps at Ray's signal-calling position until proven otherwise.The loss of Lardarius Webb at cornerback could be even more crucial than the loss of Ray Lewis at ILB....2nd-year man Jimmy Smith is in line to take his spot on the outside. “I’m absolutely ready for it,” Smith said. “It’s what I’ve been waiting for.”
Smith has been the Ravens’ No. 3 cornerback ever since being drafted in 2011. Cary Williams won the starting job last year and maintained it through competition this season, despite his early struggles. Smith still saw a lot of playing time in three-wide sets, but had the desire for more. His playing time immediately increased as soon as Webb crumbled to the turf in the first quarter Sunday against Dallas. Smith’s first thought when Webb clutched for his knee was, “Oh, oh he’s down.” Smith seemed to realize the severity of the injury. Then his second thought? “Let’s go.”
“That’s my friend. So first and foremost I’m sad that my friend’s hurt,” Smith said. “I feel bad for Webb, but I’m very excited. … Next man up. Our hearts go out to Webb and his situation, but when the game plays, you have to go.”Smith was asked whether the Ravens defense can be as good without Webb, who is the team’s top cornerback and a potential Pro Bowler. “No shot toward Lardarius – obviously he makes us that much better – but I think we have enough guys to step up and fill his role,” he said.The Ravens dipped deep into their cornerback ranks against the Cowboys. Smith moved immediately outside on a full-time basis, except for on a few plays when he came to the sidelines with a hamstring strain. He finished with seven tackles, including one for a loss, and a pass deflection. Veteran free-agent addition Corey Graham slid into the nickel role, which he played well last year in Chicago (three interceptions, 13 tackles). Chykie Brown filled in for Smith when he was sidelined with the injury. Safety Ed Reed even occasionally played in the slot and James Ihedigbo entered the game.The Ravens also have rookie fifth-round pick Asa Jackson, but he was inactive.
“Jimmy played really well, and I thought Cary played really well,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “Corey Graham stepped in and played really well, that’s why we brought him here. And, then, Chykie… so we went deep in that position. I thought all of the guys played really well, and you’re right, they’re going to have to.”
The loss of Webb will have a ripple effect on the entire cornerbacks unit. But Smith, who had two interceptions as a rookie, is confident that this could be the start of something big for him. “It’s not next man up. It’s like next six guys up,” Smith said. “For me, I think I’ll be starting for a while.”