Column: Last ride a rocky one for Ray Lewis

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Column: Last ride a rocky one for Ray Lewis

NEW ORLEANS (AP) A lot of this Super Bowl was going to be about Ray Lewis anyway, even before strange tales of deer-antler spray and magic hologram chips came to light. He made sure of it by starting his retirement tour early, and bringing along the dances and inspirational speeches that TV cameras eat up.

If his oratorical skills are great, so, too, is the player. His teammates love him as much for what he does in the locker room as on the field, and fans in Baltimore may one day even erect a statue to his greatness.

Seventeen years fronting one of the most dominating defenses in the NFL should be enough to get him in the Hall of Fame. A Super Bowl win on Sunday would give him a second ring to cherish the rest of his life.

Like the player, though, the act has grown old. When Lewis talks - and he talks incessantly - it's hard to take anything he says seriously.

That was the case Wednesday when he had the stage to himself and everyone in a packed interview room wanted to know: Just what is deer-antler spray and why would you want to take it?

Turns out he wouldn't. And, says Lewis, anyone who suggests otherwise must be doing so with evil intent.

``That's the trick of the devil,'' he said. ``The trick of the devil is to kill, steal and destroy. That's what he comes to do. He comes to distract you from everything you're trying to do.''

Enough. Please. The real trick for Ray Lewis is obfuscation and if he does it well, it's because he's had plenty of practice.

The day before, a reporter had the temerity to ask him about a night 13 years ago in Atlanta that left two men dead after a Super Bowl party and put Lewis in jail on charges of double murder. Old news, maybe, but the circumstances surrounding the deaths have never been fully explained, especially by Lewis.

Instead of invoking the devil, Lewis went the other way.

``Nobody here is really qualified to ask those questions,'' he said. ``I just truly feel that this is God's time, and whatever his time is, let it be his will. Don't try to please everybody with your words, try to make everybody's story sound right.''

What?

Lewis pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and got probation, along with a $250,000 fine from the NFL for violating its conduct policy. The murders remain unsolved after the case against his co-defendants fell apart.

He's been nothing but a model citizen since and as the years go by and memories fade he's become in inspirational figure to those who enjoy his proselytizing and his play on the football field. His teammates respect him as their leader, and his coach seems to regard him as larger than life.

``We have already used him as our team chaplain, so Ray could double up anytime he wants,'' Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. ``He can coach. He can do whatever he wants. I think Ray's got big plans. Ray's that kind of guy and when he's done playing he's always a guy trying to affect people and change the way that people think and make an impact on the world.''

He's certainly making an impact on this Super Bowl, though his last ride has turned out to be bumpier than he might have imagined. Lewis surely understood the murders would be mentioned, but after years of deflecting questions about his connection to them, he was probably also sure it would be no more than a minor annoyance.

It's not so easy with deer-antler spray and pills. Sports Illustrated said Lewis hoped to repair a torn right triceps by seeking help from an Alabama company that says its products contain a banned substance connected to human growth hormone. Lewis denied taking anything illegal, but danced around any connection to the company that also sold its product to golfer Vijay Singh and others.

``To entertain foolishness like that from cowards who come from the outside and try to destroy what we've built, like I just said, it's sad to even entertain it on this type of stage, because this type of stage is what dreams are made of,'' Lewis said. ``This is what kids dream their whole lives, to be up here on these days, stepping in the NFL and saying that I am on the biggest stage ever.''

If it all sounds a bit wacky, it's because it is. What, after all, could be goofier than deer-antler spray and magic chips except maybe the men who believe in them.

But after the Lance Armstrong confession it's hard to believe anything athletes say anymore, or that the NFL is somehow free of PEDs simply because there hasn't been a big scandal in recent years. We don't know what anyone takes, how many tests they've passed or failed, or what they do behind closed doors to build the kind of muscles you need to play in the NFL.

Life as a football player will end for Lewis on Sunday in the Super Bowl, and if he has mixed emotions about it, so must we.

It's hard to root against one of the greatest linebackers ever, a man who has played with the intensity of 10 men for 17 years now, and a man who is a towering figure in the locker room,

After today, it's even harder to root for him.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org orhttp://twitter.com/timdahlberg

AFC North: Steelers LB James Harrison will return for 2016

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AFC North: Steelers LB James Harrison will return for 2016

The Ravens can expect to see Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison as an opponent again in 2016. Harrison confirmed on his Instagram account Monday that he would return for another season.

Harrison will turn 38 years old Wednesday (May 4), but he was still effective in 2015 with five sacks and 40 tackles playing in the Steelers’ linebacker rotation. With his announcement that he was returning, Harrison wrote “I’m feeling just like a fine wine. Getting better with age.”

Despite Harrison’s age, the Steelers believe they got younger and better on defense through the draft. Five of the Steelers’ seven picks were on defense – cornerback Artie Burns (first round), safety Sean Davis (second), defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (third round), outside linebacker Travis Feeney (sixth round), and inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich (seventh round).  

Clearly, there will be plenty of new names in the Ravens-Steelers rivalry, with both teams looking to get younger and faster. However, Harrison plans to be part of the mix for at least another season. The Ravens host the Steelers in Week 9, and visit the Steelers on Christmas afternoon.

MORE RAVENS: BISCIOTTI GETS HIS WISH WITH BOLSTERED PASS RUSH

Bisciotti gets his wish with draft class full of pass rushers

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Bisciotti gets his wish with draft class full of pass rushers

At the team's "State of the Ravens" end-of-season news conference, owner Steve Bisciotti made no bones about where he thought the Ravens needed to improve in 2016: rushing the passer.

So although Bisciotti didn't speak to the media after the draft, he had to be pleased with the results.

With two of their first three picks, the Ravens selected players who figure to pressure the quarterback -- Boise State linebacker Kamalei Correa and Brigham Young defensive end Bronson Kaufusi.

"They both have pass rush ability," coach John Harbaugh said. "They both get sacks, they are both high-motor players and high-energy pass rushers. These two guys are going to run to the ball. These two guys are going to run to the ball 100 miles an hour every single play. That’s really important on defense.”

The next day, the Ravens added Grand Valley State defensive end Matt Judon -- who had 20 sacks last year -- in the fifth round. Just for good measure, they also reportedly agreed to sign undrafted rookie linebacker Victor Ochi of Stony Brook, who led the Football Championship Subdivision with 13 sacks.

Harbaugh said after the draft that "I don't think it was a secret" that Bisciotti wanted the Ravens to upgrade the pass rush, "and we were able to fill (that need). I’m really fired up about that. I’m really excited about these guys getting to the quarterback.”

Bisciotti said in January that losing Terrell Suggs to a season-ending injury in Week 1 had a "domino effect" that greatly disrupted the defense. Elvis Dumervil was forced into more of a three-down role, and Courtney Upshaw never came close to replacing Suggs' sack numbers. Dumervil dropped from 17 sacks to six, and overall the Ravens dropped from 49 sacks in 2014 to 37 last season.

When the pass rush failed to pressure the quarterback, coverage linebackers or defensive backs were frequently exposed.

"I think I have a true appreciation of what pressure means, and so that’s what I think we need to do," Bisciotti had said in January. "I think we need to focus on our free agency and our draft, and I think we have to have multiple pass rushers in order to let everybody else be effective.”

Suggs turns 34 in October and is coming off his second major Achilles injury. Dumervil is 32. So the need to develop good young pass rushers is obvious. The Ravens hope they took a big step in that direction over the weekend.

MORE RAVENS: EVALUATING ALL FIVE 4TH-ROUND SELECTIONS

Will Ravens' record-setting fourth-round bonanza live up to the hype?

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Will Ravens' record-setting fourth-round bonanza live up to the hype?

Will the Ravens’ fourth-round haul live up to the hype?

No team in NFL history had ever made five fourth-round picks, and some felt the Ravens hit on all of them. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay says, “This might be the best fourth round I’ve ever seen from a team.”

Here’s a closer look at how the five players the Ravens selected in Round 4 could fit in next season:

Tavon Young, CB, Temple (104th overall)

Young will compete for a nickel corner spot as a rookie. Barring injuries, the only certainty about the Ravens secondary is Jimmy Smith starting at one corner and Eric Weddle starting at safety. Young will compete for playing time with Shareece Wright, Kyle Arrington, Will Davis, and others. But if Young plays regularly as a rookie and helps them win games, it’s a steal.

Chris Moore, WR, Cincinnati (107)

Moore has legit deep speed, joining Breshad Perriman and Mike Wallace as receivers that can stretch the field for quarterback Joe Flacco. Think about it, the Ravens didn’t’ have Perriman, Wallace, or Moore on the field last season. If Moore has a strong training camp, the Ravens will find a way to get him some opportunities. Remember the big plays Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones made during the Super Bowl year? The Ravens hope Wallace, Perriman, and Moore provide that kind of impact.

Alex Lewis, OT, Nebraska (130)

If the Ravens part with left tackle Eugene Monroe, Lewis could become the backup at left tackle behind first-round pick Ronnie Stanley. Lewis could also be the backup to right tackle Rick Wagner. Either way, Lewis could be one injury away from playing.

Willie Henry, DT, Michigan (132)

He’s the fourth-rounder with the hardest path to immediate playing time. The Ravens are deep at defensive tackle with Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, and Carl Davis. But if Henry shows he can help as a run stopper, he’ll be part of the defensive line rotation.

Kenneth Dixon, RB, Louisiana Tech (134)

Some thought Dixon was the best pass-catching back in the draft. Justin Forsett will enter camp as the starter, but the Ravens want to keep him fresh. It’s a crowded running back group right now, but Buck Allen and Lorenzo Taliaferro both saw playing time as rookie running backs. Dixon will too, if he shows he’s ready to make plays.

MORE RAVENS: A WAY TOO EARLY NFL DRAFT TOP 10