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Patrick Willis will carry on Lewis' No. 52 legacy

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Patrick Willis will carry on Lewis' No. 52 legacy

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Two of the league's most imposing inside linebackers both happen to wear No. 52.

This story is about the other one.

Patrick Willis of the San Francisco 49ers already has done plenty to prove his is the dominant 52 on the left coast and beyond, having been an All-Pro in five of his six NFL seasons. After enduring years of losing, he finally gets to flaunt his talent on the NFL's biggest stage at Sunday's Super Bowl, where he'll meet up with ... you guessed it. ...

No. 52 of the Baltimore Ravens, retiring Ray Lewis.

``I think in a couple years, people are going to come along and say, `Is that 52 Patrick Willis?''' 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith said. ``He's his own guy. He's making his own name.''

Aside from the number, Lewis and Willis are as different as they come. Lewis is emotional, loud and brash. Willis is soft-spoken and happy to stay behind the scenes.

``That's a whole different guy. That's Patrick Willis,'' Smith said. ``No disrespect to Ray Lewis. Ray's a great guy and he's done so much for this league and it's much-appreciated, but that's Patrick Willis.''

On the field, they each deliver pain the same way.

They make quarterbacks quiver. Ask 49ers backup Alex Smith. He doesn't even like seeing Willis on the practice field.

And alongside San Francisco's 52 is No. 53 NaVorro Bowman. Together, they deliver an All-Pro 1-2 linebacking punch.

``That 52 and 53 are going to be around a long time,'' Ravens running back Ray Rice said. ``They're going to be a force to reckon with. Sort of like our guys.''

Nobody has to remind Lewis what Willis brings on game day.

``I think he is one of the up-and-coming young stars who plays the game the right way,'' Lewis said. ``He plays the game with a certain passion, and plays with a certain discipline. Honestly, I really enjoy watching the young man play.''

Willis, the 11th overall draft pick in 2007 out of Mississippi, is the centerpiece of a San Francisco defense that returned everyone from the 2011 team that came so close to making the Super Bowl. The Niners lost 20-17 in overtime of the NFC title game to the eventual champion New York Giants.

Willis and his teammates used that loss as motivation and ultimately got the franchise back to the NFL title game for the first time in 18 years.

Getting back to No. 52, Willis said he was given a choice of numbers when he was drafted - 51, 57, 59 or 52.

``I said to myself: `Why don't I get the number 52? I know a guy right now who wears that number who is one of the best. It will be a great number to play up to.' That's kind of how it came about.''

He's actually pretty friendly with Lewis, a bond that has grown with time together at Pro Bowls and regular text messages.

``That's a young one, a young lion I talk to a lot,'' Lewis said. ``I've been talking to Patrick since his rookie year, and I got into his story a little bit, why he wears 52 and all that. It is actually humbling to know him as a man because when we started talking at Pro Bowls, he would always tell me all of these stories, and we would just have conversations. My job is now, every time I call him, every time I tell him something, I always try to give him good advice, whether it's to stretch more or to do more to have the longevity that you are trying to have in this game.''

Willis calls it an honor to share a field with Lewis.

``I see a man that plays with passion. I see a man that plays with enthusiasm every play,'' he said. ``I see a man who's a leader. I see a man who made a difference by the way he played the middle linebacker position. That's one of those things that someday, when a young kid looks at me, when another teammate looks at me, and they watch the film, I hope to have that kind of feel to the game. I hope to have that kind of eye. He's the Mufasa of this league right now.''

For now, yes.

Willis' teammates already consider this his time. They have for a while.

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Ray Lewis launching bourbon brand for charity, gifting first bottles to Trump, Pence

Ray Lewis launching bourbon brand for charity, gifting first bottles to Trump, Pence

Ravens great Ray Lewis will soon have his own line of bourbons called Ray's Reserve, according to The Spirit Business. 

It won't be a profit-driven enterprise. Instead, only 100 bottles will be produced for charity.

The proceeds from their sale will go to the Time to Shine Scholaship & Internship Program for Women, which helps high-school aged women pursue educational and professional opportunities. 

However, Lewis intends to give the first two bottles away as gifts to incoming president Donald Trump and vice president Mike Pence. 

“I have been thoroughly impressed with president-elect Trump and his desire to help inner city kids and provide better education opportunities for women,” Lewis said.

The bourbon will go on sale starting February 15. 

MORE RAVENS: Steve Smith addresses coaching rumors

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Ravens name Joe D'Alessandris new offensive line coach

Ravens name Joe D'Alessandris new offensive line coach

Joe D’Alessandris has been named the Ravens’ new offensive line coach, the team announced Thursday. D’Allesandris was tabbed to replace Juan Castillo, who left the Ravens to become the Bills offensive line coach.

D’Alessandris has been an offensive line coach with the Chargers (2013-15), Bills (2010), and Chiefs (2008-09), and he has been a coach at the college or pro level since 1979.

“I feel very privileged and honored to come work with such a tremendous organization,” said D’Alessandris in a statement released by the team. “I very much look forward to the tremendous opportunity of working for (coach) John Harbaugh and (general manager) Ozzie Newsome on an incredible staff.”

Harbaugh said D’Alessandris had the credentials to improve the offensive line in all areas.

“We had a number of very good, qualified candidates for this position, and we have the right fit with Joe,” Harbaugh said in a statement. “He’s a hard-nosed, experienced coach, who is an excellent teacher. He’ll be able to work with our veterans to get the most out of them, and he’ll take our young linemen to higher levels.”

MORE RAVENS: Ray Lewis to Tom Brady: 'Stop Complaining'