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Calais Campbell might be the Ravens’ most important acquisition yet | COMMENTARY

When the 2020 season ends, Ravens defensive end Calais Campbell might be the most important acquisition in team history since tight end Shannon Sharpe in 2000.

The Ravens have signed some great free agents, such as Hall of Fame safety Rod Woodson and Sharpe, but both were in the twilight of their careers. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin, acquired from the Arizona Cardinals for third- and fifth-round picks, helped the team win a Super Bowl. Free-agent defensive linemen Michael McCrary and Tony Siragusa and receivers Derrick Mason and Steve Smith Sr. were productive, but they didn’t fit in right away like Campbell.

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He is one giant, total package.

“He is more imposing in person, as just the size of who he is physically, but sort of as a personality as well, in a real positive and good-natured way,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He has a big personality. He’s a really caring guy. He’s a great leader. He cares about his teammates and he is a family man. He’s just the total package, for sure.”

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Maybe the most amazing part is that the Ravens got him from the Jacksonville Jaguars during a salary-cap purge in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick. The Ravens plugged their biggest offseason hole with a 6-foot-8, 300-pound lineman who is regarded as the best at his position in the NFL.

Campbell, who turns 34 on Sept. 1, has played in five Pro Bowls, was selected to the NFL’s All-Decade team and has collected 696 tackles during his illustrious 12-year career. The Ravens were looking for a run-stuffing end to complement nose tackle Brandon Williams after the Ravens failed to control the running game in two straight playoff losses.

The 28-12 divisional-round loss to the Tennessee Titans last season was extremely painful because the Ravens had home-field advantage after a record-setting 14-2 regular season. Running back Derrick Henry gutted the Ravens’ run defense for 195 yards on 30 carries as Tennessee averaged 5.9 yards on 37 attempts.

With Campbell, the Ravens are getting a bonus because he has consistently been one of the NFL’s top pass rushers with 88 career sacks. He has also knocked down 48 passes and forced 14 fumbles. The Ravens can line him up inside or move him off the edge.

Once you find him, then you have to block him.

“I’ve been helping him with the playbook,” Williams said. “We’ve been having conversations about, pretty much, like, what he brings to the table, what I’ve seen on his film that he’s had, what he’s seen from me and how we can pretty much just jell together and play off each other — just different little things like that. He gets up field. He definitely is a commanding guy; he commands two or more people on him. I’m the same way.

“It’s going to be crazy this year. We’ve got a lot of stuff going on for us. He’s a good addition to have for sure.”

Williams and Campbell have taken over the Ravens practices with their laughter, joking and constant chatter. It’s unusual for even star players to have such a dominant presence in their first season. Smith once said that new players had to perform at a high level for awhile before they could gain the confidence of their teammates.

McCrary and Mason kind of blended in for a year before their true personalities emerged. It was the same way with the bombastic Siragusa. But Campbell has become a tutor for rookie defensive linemen Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington.

“The first thing you do when you come to a new team is you want to just show people your work ethic and how hard you’re willing to grind, try to earn their respect,” Campbell said early in training camp. “So I’ve spent the last couple weeks, and really the offseason program that we had virtually, just trying to earn my teammates’ respect.”

It’s the charisma. He was one of the most charitable players in the league during his three years in Jacksonville, earning Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year honors last season, and he has already made similar inroads in Baltimore. If you want to see the real impact he has had on his teammates, just look at a recent team video.

At the end of one hot summer practice, Campbell asked the 6-1, 336-pound Williams to run some sprints with him, which is like asking Williams if he wanted to attempt to tackle quarterback Lamar Jackson one-on-one in the middle of the field.

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But Williams agreed. A little later, so did several other defensive linemen.

Now, when you can get the big boys to run after practice, that’s impact.

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