OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ed Dickson glanced toward the stall in the corner of the locker room where the legend used to dress, still eager to pay homage.
Eugene Monroe, the new, hurry-up-and-fix-it left tackle acquired from the Jacksonville Jaguars, now occupies the locker that once belonged to Ray Lewis. For the occasional visitor, this takes a bit of getting used to.
"These are all still Ray's lockers," said Dickson, the fourth-year Baltimore Ravens tight end, chuckling after Tuesday's practice. "We're all just renting space.
"So when was the last time you were in here?"
Officially, it was last season, during Lewis' final ride into the sunset wearing a Super Bowl crown.
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A few things have surely changed since then.
Just ask Terrell Suggs. How's it going, T-Sizzle?
"Not good," Suggs grumbled. "I hate losing a rivalry game."
Even worse, after a last-second loss at the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens (3-4) — with so many vets, such as Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin and Matt Birk, departed from the title team — are not even batting .500 as they head into a now-longer bye weekend.
They are the first defending Super Bowl champion with a losing record after seven games since the, ahem, Steelers in 2006.
That's why Suggs has declared that the team was in a "state of emergency."
And it's no wonder coach John Harbaugh threatened jobs when discussing special-teams woes — Jeromy Miles was offside on a surprise onside kick and the kickoff coverage unit allowed a 44-yard return to set up the Steelers' winning field goal Sunday — during his day-after news conference.
"If it means changing people out, then that's what we'll do," Harbaugh said. "We'll trade guys, we'll cut guys, we'll sign guys, we'll coach guys, we'll change schemes — it doesn't matter. We're going to find a way to get better."
This is a good time for a bye and the chance to self-evaluate and reassess.
Last year the Ravens went into the bye with a stench, too, after getting blown out at home by the Houston Texans. It set the stage for the crucial team meeting when players vented concerns to Harbaugh, whose threats about job security should not be taken lightly.
Harbaugh, remember, fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in December and promoted Jim Caldwell into the role.
Now it's Caldwell with a slew of issues to sort through. Ray Rice is averaging 2.8 yards a carry, which matches the team average that is worst in the league. Without a decent running game, so much else gets thrown out of whack. Like the deep passing game, among reflections of Joe Flacco's struggles (eight TDs, eight interceptions, 20 sacks).
There are, however, extenuating circumstances. Super Bowl hero Jacoby Jones missed four games with a knee injury. Tight end Dennis Pitta is trying to rebound from hip surgery. Rice was slowed by a hip injury.
Monroe was obtained because Bryant McKinnie, traded to the Miami Dolphins on Monday for a conditional pick, significantly regressed.
"Nobody cares about your adversity," Caldwell said as he stopped in a hallway. "This is a performance league."
Meanwhile, a defense that ranks second in the NFL in sacks (25) and red-zone scoring (26.3%) hasn't consistently stopped the run. The Steelers trampled the Ravens for 141 yards on the ground a week after the Green Bay Packers gashed them for 140. Before that, the Buffalo Bills chalked up 203 yards.
It might have something to do with the seven new starters (including cornerback Lardarius Webb, back from the torn ACL that wiped out his 2012 campaign) that defensive coordinator Dean Pees is fielding. There are two new safeties and two new inside linebackers. With all the new faces, it is more difficult to make in-game adjustments.
And did we mention the swagger? With three losses in four games, that's missing, too.
Performance is the real confidence-builder. Just because the Ravens fought through stumbles and got hot for a Super Bowl run last time doesn't mean they will catch the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals.
Repeating is always difficult. The same magic and momentum of the previous season rarely return intact, evidenced by the fact three teams over the last 20 years have repeated.
So this was always going to be a tough encore act for the Ravens, with the most pronounced roster overhaul of any defending champ. In times like these, they would always get an inspirational speech from Lewis.
What would Lewis say about now?
"He'd say, basically, 'There's a whole lot of season left,'" Dickson said. "'Battle for your brothers.' I think we'll be fine. Our goals are still in front of us.
"Last year, we weren't the best team in the middle of the year. But we were the best team at the end."
Which was a long time ago.
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