The Ravens signed former Houston Texans safety Kendrick Lewis to a three-year contract. He talks about competing for a starting position in training camp. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
Safety Kendrick Lewis had long admired the Ravens' defensive mentality from afar, but as he prepared to make a decision on where he'd continue his NFL career, he sought the advice of somebody who had inside knowledge of the organization.
Ex-Ravens offensive tackle Michael Oher, his former college teammate at Mississippi, told Lewis exactly what he needed to hear.
"He was just up front," said Lewis, who passed his physical Tuesday, finalizing his three-year deal with the Ravens. "He poured his heart out with all the great things that he had to say about this organization. … He made me feel comfortable in making the decision to come here and be a part of the Baltimore Ravens."
Lewis, 26, started all 16 games at free safety for the Houston Texans last season and led them with 84 tackles to go along with two interceptions. The season before, he started 15 of 16 games with the Kansas City Chiefs, making 61 tackles and one interception.
He said other teams contacted him after free ageny began last week, but it was the Ravens' interest that got his immediate attention.
"When you see Baltimore Ravens, you see the philosophy. You see that their team is made up on defense and me being a defensive guy, me being a safety, that's what I wanted to be a part of," Lewis said. "Everybody feels like this decision [fits] me more. I've been in Kansas City, I've been in Houston. With my nature and the type of person I am and how Michael Oher described this place to me, I feel like it's the best decision I've made."
Finding a reliable safety was one of the Ravens' offseason priorities after former first-round NFL draft pick Matt Elam regressed badly last season and 2014 third-round pick Terrence Brooks suffered a significant knee injury that will keep him out for part of the 2015 season. The Ravens' sense of urgency to add a safety only increased when Darian Stewart, who started 14 games in 2014, signed a two-year deal with the Denver Broncos last Friday.
The Ravens are hoping that Lewis helps improve the tackling and communication in the secondary, as both were issues last season when the team finished with the NFL's 23rd-ranked pass defense.
"I think he's a guy that is going to come here and solidify our defense on the back end," said Ravens secondary coach Chris Hewitt. "We needed a veteran presence back there. He's a guy that has been starting in this league ever since he's been here — going into his sixth season. This was a dear decision that we needed for our team, as far as leadership, especially in the back end."
The Ravens are big on roster competition and they aren't going to reward Lewis with a starting job in March. But the expectation is he will start alongside Will Hill.
"I'm a competitor, a full-time competitor," Lewis said. "No matter what position I'm put in, that's my goal, to come into the starting lineup. I'm going to compete from the moment I step on the field, from the moment I step in the classroom. It's up to coaches, it's up to the organization to make that decision, but I'm going to give it my all."
Pro Football Focus ranked Lewis as the NFL's 39th-best safety last season, grading him 11th against the run and 62nd against the pass. Lewis was often used as a box safety last season to help the Texans against the run, but he's prepared to do whatever the Ravens ask of him.
"I don't want to put myself in the box and say I'm just a center fielder. I'm an all-around player and I'm here to do whatever my coach and the coaching staff allows me to do and wants me to do," Lewis said. "They signed me here to help this club, to help this organization. Whatever they need me to do, I'll be doing."