Bisciotti defends R. Lewis

OWINGS MILLS -- Ray Lewis wasn't present at the introductory news conference for new Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, but the outspoken middle linebacker was at the center of several conversations. Owner Steve Bisciotti, who's close to Lewis, staunchly defended the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year and predicted he'll an asset to Harbaugh, not a disruptive force in the locker room.

"It bothers me that Ray would ever be perceived as caring more about his own agenda than winning a championship," Bisciotti said. "That's all Ray wants. .. I think that when John gets the opportunity to sit down with Ray, he's going to thank his lucky stars that he has him. I don't think that anybody is going to give any less of their commitment and attention to John than Ray is.

"I don't know where Ray is right now. He may be in Jamaica, but I guarantee you that the minute he hears this he's going to start thinking, 'How can I help this coach be a great coach?' And that's a nice place to start out on this team."

Nonetheless, Lewis publicly criticized since-fired coach Brian Billick, second-guessing his play-calling following a loss to the Buffalo Bills on his weekly radio program. Plus, several other players were critical of Billick and publicly lobbied for the Ravens to hire popular defensive coordinator Rex Ryan as his replacement.

There continues to be a strong perception around town and in league circles that Lewis remains a powerful figure in the organization with some speculation that he's consulted regularly on personnel and coaching decisions.

However, Bisciotti denied that Lewis or any other player reached out to him during the coaching search or that he discussed candidates with players.

"Everybody knows that Ray Lewis is the player and the leader that he is," Bisciotti said. "Everything you know about Ray is true. He's truly one of the greatest leaders that I've ever been around in my life. It's genuine.

"It's constant, it's so deep-rooted that he can't possibly be anything but a great influence for the other players. People say, 'This is Ray's team, it should be, it shouldn't be, whatever.' Leaders rise to the top, and Ray has since the time he was a young man."

Although the Ravens experienced a meltdown in a narrow loss to the New England Patriots where several players confronted officials and were later fined for their critical comments regarding the officiating, Bisciotti denied that there's a lack of discipline on his football team.

"I didn't get that overall sense that we lacked discipline," Bisciotti said. "I think that you have a tendency to lose focus when you're losing. It tends to perpetuate bad habits. No, I don't think that's that big of an issue.

"And I hope John doesn't come and say that he thinks it is come September. I think that these guys are ready for a change, and I think they're going to be enthusiastic about it. I think that they're going to be dedicated to John's vision. I think John's a good communicator of his vision, and that's why he's here."

Harbaugh expressed confidence in his ability to impart his message that the players need to play hard while practicing impulse control.

"I think discipline is misunderstood sometimes," Harbaugh said. "When you're talking about discipline in football, you're talking about guys making good choices in critical moments, maintaining themselves, being poised when they've got to be poised, doing the right thing.

"We've got smart guys on this football team, guys that are going to understand that. I think there's a plan in place for getting your team to that point. That's part of the process that starts tomorrow."

NOTE: Lewis, 32, is entering the final year of his contract and is due a $6.5 million base salary. Bisciotti forecasted that Lewis has a lot more football left in his future.

"He's probably got four, five good years left," Bisciotti said. "You see Junior Seau and Brett Favre running around, you see Ray Lewis running around this year doing what he did at 32 years old. There's no end in sight for Ray Lewis."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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