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With Ravens' glittering cast, spotlight turns from Hartwell

A morning practice has ended at the Ravens' training camp and Ray Lewis, the undisputed leader of the team's defense, is going from camera to camera, giving a little face time to each of the local networks.

Twenty yards to Lewis' left, first-round draft pick Terrell Suggs is holding court with a horde of reporters, giving his first news conference after a two-day contract holdout.

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And more than a football field away, at the far corner of the McDaniel College practice facility, Ed Hartwell is offering life lessons to a church youth group.

When Lewis was injured last season, Hartwell successfully took the mantle of defensive leader in only his second year as a pro and his first as a starter. He led the Ravens with 191 tackles, the first player other than Lewis to lead the team in that department.

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But among a projected starting linebacking quartet of the All-World Lewis, the All-Pro Peter Boulware, the All-Hyped Suggs and Hartwell, last year's overachiever is distinctly overshadowed. It leaves Hartwell a good linebacker trying to be a great one in the midst of the best.

"I believe that God is going to put me through the things that I need to go through," Hartwell said. "If it is to go through not being recognized when you're proving it, then that's fine."

On this day, a dozen youngsters stare at the 6-foot-1, 250-pound player in their midst. Hartwell warns them, "If money comes too easy, then it's not worth having."

And last year's success?

"I don't think it came too fast," he said. In fact, Hartwell said he expects to surpass 191 tackles this season.

"You can expect over 10 tackles a game from Ed Hartwell," the 25-year-old Las Vegas native said. "If I get less than 10 tackles a game, I'm actually mad at myself."

Lewis' return from his shoulder injury might force Hartwell to reexamine his expectations.

Playing alongside Lewis can be an inspiring experience for a young linebacker, but it can also limit the opportunity to have an impact, since Lewis is such a dominating force. A healthy Lewis makes it unlikely Hartwell can put up the same statistics as last season, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said.

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"Ray is going to take some of those same plays away from him [Hartwell]. But you certainly expect him to play at that level or better this year," said Nolan, who will look past raw numbers in evaluating Hartwell's play.

"He didn't make every play he was supposed to last year. But say he made three-quarters of them. If he can make 80 percent of them this year, he's a better player."

Linebackers coach Mike Singletary is looking to Hartwell more for big plays than gaudy statistics.

"In all honesty, I think it is going to be real interesting as to what he can be," Singletary said. "Right now, he's just a good linebacker. But he wants to take it to the next level. ... He's committed to being a great linebacker, whatever that means."

Hartwell spent his rookie year playing special teams. Last season, the Ravens went to a 3-4 defense and a younger, cheaper roster, giving Hartwell a chance to start as an inside linebacker. For Hartwell, Lewis' 11-game absence opened the door to a bigger on-field impact and a leadership role.

"The biggest thing he did was he took on the leadership role that was left void with Ray gone," Nolan said. "In all my years, I hadn't seen a young guy like that actually step in and take on that part of the role as seriously as he did."

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Even with Lewis back, Hartwell said he still wants to be a leader. His voice is heard shouting orders and encouragement during practice, and he's willing to dole out wisdom to newcomers.

"Of course, Ray is the leader out there, the big-time leader, but Ed is right there," said rookie linebacker Chris Brown as he walked off the practice field, Hartwell's shoulder pads and helmet in tow. Lugging Hartwell's sweat-drenched equipment is Brown's responsibility, as is learning from the man he backs up.

"When I watch him out there, I can get kind of pumped up myself," Brown said. "If he can do it in three years, why can't I?"

In only his third year, Hartwell's development is an ongoing process.

"For a starter in the NFL, and to be as good as he can be, he has a lot of maturity that's still ahead of him," Nolan said.

Hartwell said he is constantly learning from Singletary, a Hall of Famer and the definition of a great linebacker during his days with the Chicago Bears. After a practice session last week, Singletary pulled Hartwell aside for a tutorial. The day's lesson was on using the knees to explode into a hit.

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"How good can he be? I don't know yet," Singletary said. "He has a great example in Ray. He's got a great example in Pete. He wants to aspire to be where they are and he can get there."

Hartwell pointed out that last year's success didn't come out of the blue. In a three-year career at Division I-AA Western Illinois, he set the school record for career tackles with 512. He was a unanimous All-America first-team selection his senior year.

"But no one goes back and looks that far," said Hartwell, revealing the chip on his shoulder. "I was a fourth-round draft pick, so there wasn't a lot of hype over me coming to this team."

Right now, Singletary said Hartwell is "jockeying for position in terms of identity." He wants to be the type of linebacker Lewis is, but needs to find and commit to a path to get there.

"Everybody says, 'Oh, that's the little Ray Lewis,' " said Hartwell. "I want to be Ed Hartwell. You always strive to have your own identity. That's what I'm starting to do now - just have my own identity."

Camp data

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What: Ravens training camp

When: Through Aug. 19

Where: McDaniel College, Westminster

Today's practice times: 8:45 a.m. to 11 a.m., and 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Preseason opener: Saturday vs. Buffalo Bills, 8 p.m., M&T; Bank Stadium, Ch. 45.


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