It will probably feel a little odd when Tom Brady walks behind center for the first time Sunday afternoon.
Whenever Brady played the Ravens in the past, he would look for Ed Reed lurking in the secondary -- he wrote "Find 20 on every play" on his wristband as a reminder -- and he could hear Ray Lewis from across the line of scrimmage barking out commands as the field generals aligned their personnel before the snap.
On Sunday, though, those two Ravens legends will be nowhere to be seen or heard. Lewis is now in the broadcast booth and Reed is inching closer to retirement with his third team in the past year. But despite all of the turnover in Baltimore since the Ravens beat Brady's New England Patriots in last season's AFC championship game, Brady still thinks the Ravens have a "great" defense in life after Lewis and Reed.
"I think those two are Hall of Fame players," Brady said Wednesday. "They're phenomenal players and they were that for that team for a long time. They really set the standard for what defensive football is all about. They're still a great defense without them. I think they still really carryover from what they've done. They obviously have a lot of leadership with Haloti [Ngata] and [Terrell] Suggs and [Jameel] McClain and Lardarius Webb. They still have All-Pros at all these positions. They're still a great team."
The Ravens, as we know, have replaced more than just those two. Elvis Dumervil and Chris Canty are among the newcomers on defense and James Ihedigbo and Jimmy Smith have stepped up into starting roles. But the spotlight has shined brightest on Daryl Smith and Matt Elam, who have taken over for Lewis and Reed.
Smith, signed as a free agent to play middle linebacker in June, has been a fine addition, solidifying the middle of the defense by leading the team in tackles and making timely impact plays. Elam, the team's first-round draft pick, is playing out of position at free safety, but he made his first career interception Monday night against the Detroit Lions.
Brady has heaped praise on Lewis and Reed over the years. On Wednesday, with those guys gone, he spoke respectfully about Smith and Elam, particularly Smith.
"He looks a lot like Ray Lewis," Brady said. "Ray Lewis is Hall of Fame, he's one of the best players I've ever played against but Daryl Smith has really stepped in and been a big leader for them. He's right in the middle of the defense. Really smart, instinctive player, really good against the pass, fast sideline to sideline. He's got a lot of qualities, a great linebacker. He's made a lot of plays from an interception return for a touchdown, strip-sacks, fumbles and stuff like that. He's really good.
"Elam is a young player with all the skill and ability. He's made some big plays for them. He's gotten some pretty key interceptions, made one last week. He's a really good player."
I'm sure Brady is happy that the next time he will line up across from Lewis and Reed will be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But he says he isn't taking these Ravens lightly.
"Friggin' Baltimore, they've always got a good defense," the quarterback told Boston reporters.