- Associated Press - Friday, January 20, 2017

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) - Ravens linebacker Zachary Orr announced his retirement Friday after learning he has a congenital spinal condition.

The 24-year-old Orr led the Ravens this season with 132 tackles. He joined Baltimore in 2014 as an undrafted free agent out of North Texas and stepped into a starting role this year, playing the middle linebacker position once held by Ray Lewis and Daryl Smith.

Orr hurt his neck on Christmas Day in a game against Pittsburgh and missed the season finale against Cincinnati. An examination revealed he had a herniated disc, but further tests showed a deeper problem.

“The CT scan revealed that I had a condition I was born with that less than one percent of the world has,” Orr said. “At the top of my spine, it was never formed completely. That puts me at a real increased risk.”

Orr was told he could not pass a physical and that playing football was potentially life-threatening, so he had no choice but to retire.

“Everybody that broke down the situation to me was pretty much at a loss for words because they were trying to figure out how I had been playing football this long without anything major happening,” he said. “I look at it as a blessing to play football this long.”

In addition to being the Ravens‘ leading tackler this season, Orr had three interceptions, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.

“He had a great year, so he left on a very high note,” Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “As a friend, I’m very proud of him and happy for him. He was blessed to be able to walk away from the game healthy and at a high point.”

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who signed Orr after the 2014 NFL draft, was stunned at the development.

“I never expected to hear something like that,” Newsome said. “I don’t think there’s been any player that has been more inspirational to me over the last three years than Zach.”

Orr got his chance to shine this season after the Ravens released Smith and put Orr in the middle of the defense. Orr had two games with 13 tackles, reached double figures in five others finished tied for eighth in the league in tackles.

“You guys see him on Sundays flying around,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “This guy is one of the smartest football players I’ve ever been around.”

Orr’s father Terry played tight end for the Washington Redskins from 1986-93. The younger Orr didn’t get to stick around that long, but leaves the game with no regrets.

“I’ve been playing since I was nine years old,” he said. “When I first found out the news, it was shocking. I was sad, disappointed, upset because football is something I’ve been doing my whole life.

“But I’m happy that I was able to make it this far and happy that I was able to walk away from the game in good health. I can’t thank the Baltimore Ravens enough.”

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