When veteran wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. signed with the Ravens before the 2014 season, he was careful about displaying too much leadership too soon.
He didn’t want to cause any problems in the locker room right away.
But it’s been different since the Ravens signed veteran safety Earl Thomas earlier this year. Since Day One, he arrived at the team’s Owings Mills training facility with instant respect and there was never any doubt that he was a team leader.
The Ravens need that type of presence. They lost leadership during the offseason with the departure of outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, quarterback Joe Flacco and safety Eric Weddle. When you talk about leadership, it’s not just based on the number of years in the league, but also on the amount of big games played in the postseason.
Thomas has that, having played with one of the best defenses in NFL history during his time in Seattle with the Seahawks from 2010 through 2018. But just as important, he gives the Ravens a physical presence in the middle of the secondary that they haven’t had since Bernard Pollard played safety in 2011 and 2012.
Some critics will argue that there is no longer a need for a thumper in the secondary. Rules now prohibit safeties and cornerbacks from delivering vicious hits. I disagree. Football is a tough game played by tough people. The more tough guys you have, the better your chances of winning.
The Thomas and Ravens marriage should be a good one. Thomas is a tone-setter. He can still impact a game and a passing offense with vicious tackles over the middle.
Unlike last season, when teams challenged a slow Weddle over the middle, they’ll think twice about going after Thomas if he plays well early in the season and shows he has recovered from a broken leg in 2018 that sidelined him early in the season.
There is still some uncertainty about Thomas being able to play the deep ball well. He doesn’t have the long, lean build of former Ravens Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed, which allowed Reed to cover so much ground on the back end.
Plus, after watching Thomas in a recent minicamp, there were days when he seemed to favor his leg and he occasionally had a slight limp. Even he said some days are better than others.
But in Seattle, Thomas was known as a smart safety. He constantly studied film and was great as far as putting his teammates in the right positions. Apparently, he was in the right position a lot of times, too, collecting 28 interceptions, third most in the NFL since he came into the league in 2010.
The Ravens are hoping he can provide the same spark he did in Seattle with the “Legion of Boom” when the Seahawks allowed the fewest points in the NFL for four straight seasons from 2012 through 2015.
And he has already been tabbed a team leader in Baltimore even though he hasn’t put on a Ravens uniform yet.