OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Just like the player he replaced, Daryl Smith is a leader and the focal point of the Baltimore Ravens renowned defense.
Smith signed to a one-year, $1.1 million contract as a free agent during the offseason to take over at middle linebacker for 13-time Pro Bowl star Ray Lewis, who retired after Baltimore's Super Bowl victory in February.
Smith shuns any comparisons between him and his predecessor, but his play in his first season with Baltimore has been, well, Lewis-like. The former Jacksonville Jaguars star leads the Ravens in tackles, has the team's lone interception and has contributed 1½ sacks.
"He's a tackling machine," tackle Arthur Jones said Wednesday. "I'm a big fan of his."
Smith is the leading tackler in the history of the Jacksonville Jaguars, but that distinction wasn't going to help him step in over for Lewis, who played 17 seasons in Baltimore and became the team's most recognizable star. So, Smith decided he would simply try to be himself instead of the next Ray Lewis.
"He's a mature man. He understood the situation completely," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He probably had a better handle on it than anybody. He was the guy going into the situation."
This is how Smith decided to handle it: "I don't really think about all that stuff," he said. "My focus is playing football and getting better each day."
And that's pretty much how it's gone.
"I think he's doing a fantastic job, especially considering the shoes he's got to fill," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "He's Daryl Smith. We can't expect him to be Ray Lewis. He's doing a great job being Daryl Smith."
After getting four tackles in the opener, Smith had 11 tackles in Week 2 against Cleveland. Last Sunday, he had 10 tackles — including a season-high seven solo stops — and returned an interception 37 yards for a game-turning touchdown in a 30-9 victory over Houston.
"Daryl Smith is playing really, really well," Harbaugh said, "and he's also a great leader for us."