- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 28, 2002

OWINGS MILLS, Md. Veteran Bernardo Harris must now fill in for the best linebacker in the game.

At least he was forewarned.

Ray Lewis' decision to have season-ending surgery on his partially dislocated left shoulder brought finality on whether the Baltimore Ravens' five-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker would try to finish the season with one good arm.

Harris, an eight-year pro, said Lewis kept him briefed on his status during his injury ordeal. Harris now knows he's going to be the starter the rest of the year.

"He communicated with me doing this whole ordeal," Harris said. "I kind of knew where he was standing, how he was feeling, what he was thinking [each] week."

Acquiring Harris as a free agent from the Green Bay Packers now appears to be a brilliant offseason move by the Ravens' front office. Harris was signed primarily as an insurance policy in case something happened to Lewis or second-year linebacker Ed Hartwell.

Lewis injured himself pouncing on a fumble in the third quarter of the Ravens' 26-21 win at Cleveland on Oct.6. He missed the next five games, but returned two weeks ago in a 26-7 loss at Miami. He sat out Sunday before pulling the plug on his season.

There probably isn't a player in the league who can equal what Lewis brings to the defense, but the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Harris gives the Ravens a replacement who at least is battle-tested. Harris has posted at least 100 tackles for five consecutive seasons. Last season he started all 16 games and led the Packers with 130 tackles.

In five starts this year, Harris is averaging 10 tackles per game and has 50 tackles and one sack for the season.

"The job has been getting done, but when you have a guy like Ray Lewis, you go above and beyond the job, and that's what makes him so special," outside linebacker Peter Boulware said. "Ray did his job, but he did so much more. Bernardo and Eddie Hartwell have been doing a great job, and you have to commend them for that."

Harris said he signed with the Ravens because Baltimore is relatively close to his home in Chapel Hill, N.C. He was an all-area and all-conference tight end and linebacker at Chapel Hill High School, then a second-team All-ACC selection his senior year at North Carolina.

"With my family staying at home and my kids, I wanted to be close to them," Harris said. "I had other opportunities to go other places, but I felt this would be the best situation for me. I started out kind of spoiled in this business going to three straight NFC Championship games and two Super Bowls so my career has been blessed."

Before Sunday's 13-12 win over the Tennessee Titans, Harris told his family and teammates that he has Titans quarterback Steve McNair's number. In the fourth quarter, Harris proved he was a man of his word. On first-and-20 at the Ravens' 30, Harris blasted in untouched from the right side and sacked McNair for a 15-yard loss. The Titans were forced to settle for a field goal.

Hartwell, who leads the Ravens with 108 tackles, is glad he has an experienced veteran like Harris playing next to him.

"He knows what he's doing. That's great, because you don't have to worry about him not knowing the call," Hartwell said. "You can't sleep on any player. Bernardo is a great player he's been a great player in the past and he's a good player now."

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