OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The man in the middle of the Baltimore Ravens defense is a former No. 1 draft pick who leads the team in tackles and has a knack for creating turnovers.
Those qualities used to be associated with the great Ray Lewis. These days, they apply to C.J. Mosley.
Now in his fourth NFL season, the 25-year-old Mosley has already made the Pro Bowl twice. Like Lewis, he’s the centerpiece of a defense that carries a rugged reputation.
“Growing up, my two favorite linebackers in the NFL were Ray Lewis and Brian Uhrlacher,” Mosley said Wednesday. “So now, to be here with the Baltimore Ravens, being the next man up at the (middle) linebacker position … I’m not going to say it’s a lot of pressure. It’s what I’ve been doing for a long time.
“But it’s always good to think, when I get older, as long as keep up the good work guys will be talking about me along with his name,” Mosley said, referring to Lewis. “So that’s something to look forward to.”
Lewis played 17 years with the Ravens. He had eight seasons with at least 100 tackles, finished with 17 interceptions and forced 19 fumbles.
Mosley already has two seasons with more than 100 tackles, has picked off seven passes and caused four fumbles.
Lewis and Mosley benefit from a scheme in which the defensive linemen engage the blockers, leaving the linebacker free to make plays. That, however, is only one small reason for Mosley’s success.
“God blessed me with the talent I have,” Mosley said. “You just have to go out there and make plays. I’m a linebacker and I’m supposed to make tackles.”
Drafted 17th overall out of Alabama in 2014, Mosley made an immediate impression. He became the first Ravens rookie to make the Pro Bowl after joining Lewis and Daryl Smith as the only players in franchise history to register at least 115 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions in a single season.
“Playing at a great place like Alabama, with a defensive mindset, a lot of the plays we ran there are similar to here,” Mosley said. “Once you get comfortable with your teammates and the new surroundings, you just go out and make plays.”
Mosley has maintained that level of production. His 44 tackles currently ranks fifth in the NFL, and he’s also picked off a pass and forced a fumble.
“Specifically, he’s just a talented guy,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s got great body control and a great awareness for the game. When guys are pulling around on you and you’re hitting those guards in the hole, he’s got a way of slipping those blocks and making plays — which is probably what the great ones do as linebackers.”
His prowess at the position is being noticed around the league. The Ravens (3-2) take on the Bears (1-4) this weekend, and Chicago coach John Fox knows what to expect.
“He’s a fine football player, smart, great instincts,” Fox said. “He hasn’t done it as long as Ray, so I don’t want to start comparing them quite yet. But he’s had a great start to his career and I have a lot of respect for his abilities.”
Mosley may never take over the locker room and huddle the way Lewis did, but he’s growing comfortable in a leadership role.
“C.J. is not the most talkative guy, but he has led by example and has led vocally, too,” Harbaugh said. “He’s the leader on the field, he’s the play caller and he does a great job of communicating with the guys.”
Though he’s in the NFL now, Mosley won’t forget his college roots. The ends of his dreadlocks are tinted, and the color isn’t readily identifiable around these parts.
Asked to describe the shade of red, Mosley smiled coyly and said, “Crimson.”