The Baltimore Ravens have been around since 1996, and their initial No. 1 draft pick — Ray Lewis — has been there every step of the way.
Now entering his 16th NFL season, Lewis shows limited to no signs that he’s slowing down. However, the Ravens are grooming a replacement for him, and they have four young players currently on their roster who could be manning the club’s two inside linebacker spots in the near future.
Those players include fourth-year veterans Jameel McClain and Tavares Gooden and third-year pros Dannell Ellerbe and Jason Phillips. All four are about the same size and age. McClain has an inside track to start next to Lewis this coming season, while the others should battle for backup time.
McClain started 15 games last season and had a career year with 71 tackles, one sack and a second-round tender offer from the Ravens. McClain was signed in 2008 as an undrafted free agent from Syracuse.
Gooden was selected in the third round during the 2008 from Miami, Fla. He and Ellerbe received low-qualifying offers after last season, but Gooden was expected to be the heir apparent initially. However, he has missed 22 games during his three NFL seasons.
Gooden also was said to be injury-prone in college. He had left shoulder surgery five months ago to repair a torn labrum and reportedly is on the road to recovery. Gooden is expected to be ready by training camp.
Ellerbe was an undrafted free-agent signee from Georgia in 2009, but he’s played in 24 total games with 72 combined tackles (59 solo) during that stretch. He had one sack last season and an interception as a rookie, but his best days clearly are ahead of him.
Ellerbe was a starter at the end in the 2009 season and made one start this past season for McClain. He was benched for showboating and committing some costly penalties, but he has a lots of potential.