Mike Preston: On and off the field, Ravens DE Calais Campbell is truly one of a kind
BALTIMORE — In the young history of the Ravens, there has not been a bigger acquisition in free agency or trade, on and off the field, than defensive end Calais Campbell.
The Ravens have had some good free-agent signings, like defensive linemen Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams. They’ve had some great ones, too, like wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., tight end Shannon Sharpe and safety Rod Woodson. Smith, though, conceded in his first season that he couldn’t take leadership until his second year. Woodson was the leader of the Ravens’ Super Bowl-winning secondary in 2000, but it was Sharpe who shaped the character of that team with his dynamic personality.
Campbell is the total package.
Don’t get carried away by his subpar 28 tackles and four sacks last season, when he suffered a calf injury and battled the coronavirus for weeks. Ask his teammates who has been the best player in training camp. Ask them who they seek out for professional and personal advice.
In 2019, Campbell won the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award for his contributions on and off the field, as well as the Bart Starr Award for exceptional character, which is voted on by the players. The 34-year-old’s presence is overwhelmingly dominant and positive.
“He is a great leader, loves the game of football and loves the competition,” said Joe Cullen, the former Ravens defensive line coach who is now the defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars. “He wants to win every one-on-one battle. He loves his teammates and makes everyone around him better.
“He is a Hall of Fame player and better person. He is one of the best players and best human beings I have had the privilege to coach.”
Campbell is a throwback. His raspy voice sounds like that of late Hall of Fame defensive tackle Reggie White, who played with the Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers from the mid-1980′s until 2000. But there are other similarities.
White was an ordained Evangelical minister, a player who Campbell admired. Like White, Campbell is extremely active in the community, either with food donations, grants for Black kids to attend college, donations to nonprofit organizations or putting together seminars or virtual sessions for troubled youth. He named his CRC Foundation after his late father, Charles Richard Campbell.
When he was traded from Jacksonville to the Ravens nearly a year ago, the Jaguars received more grief from community leaders than avid football fans. Jackson gives back to the cities he has played for in Arizona, Jacksonville and now Baltimore.
“I try to spread happiness, spread good energy and good vibes and try to have a smile on my face all the time,” Campbell said. “Positive energy is contagious, and I want to spread so much love in this world. I want to create a legacy where I affect as many people as possible with the time God has given me in this world.
“I grew up in the church and my parents made sure we were saved and baptized. When you grow up with religion, there comes a time when you have to decide for yourself, and my time came in college.”
There are no pretenses about Campbell. When you look at his imposing 6-foot-8, 300-pound body, it’s hard to imagine that he could be so compassionate. Campbell, though, has nine siblings.
When he was in seventh grade, both of his parents lost jobs as accountants, and the family had to live in a homeless shelter for eight months. The emphasis on family, Christianity and community never changed. Nearly six years ago, Campbell toured Jerusalem, and was baptized in the Jordan River.
“My mom [Nateal] is the most giving person in world. If she has it, she is going to share it,” Campbell said. “Dad was a man of the community who knew it takes a village, and that we had to know our neighbors, be involved in community events. That was a big deal to him, for us to be involved.”
If he isn’t involved in some type of charity event, Campbell likes to travel or participate in poker tournaments. He likes to read, usually about how someone achieves greatness, in particular NBA Hall of Fame player Michael Jordan. That probably led to Campbell researching former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison, who played in the NFL for 15 years.
He borrowed some of Harrison’s workout ideas in the offseason, which included more weightlifting. In addition, Campbell changed his diet.
“I’ve done some things to help my body,” Campbell said. “As you get older you realize more how food affects you. When I was younger, I could still fly around on Mondays. The more I played, Mondays became Tuesday and then Wednesday, and now it’s Friday before I feel good again. But you’ve got to push through that soreness and still be able to go out there, put your hands on people and have some strength. I used to be more of a quick guy with power, but now I have the strength and will use speed as a change-up.”
It has showed in training camp. He has been dominant at the point of attack or with his penetration to disrupt running plays. In pass-rushing drills, Campbell has been unstoppable. If he can play like he did three or four years ago, the Ravens will get a pass-rushing force in the middle of their line, which they haven’t had consistently since the early 2000s.
So far, the Ravens like what they see. The effects of COVID-19 and the leg injury appear to be behind Campbell. The Ravens think he can still play at a high level, like he did in 2017 and 2018 when he registered double-digit sack totals.
Throughout his 13-year career, Campbell has started 180 of 198 games and collected 724 tackles with 92 sacks. He has knocked down 54 passes, forced 14 fumbles and been named to the Pro Bowl six times. If he can stay healthy along with fellow end Derek Wolfe and tackle Brandon Williams, the Ravens will have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL.
If that happens, and they can develop a passing game, a Super Bowl championship is possible.
“That is definitely the goal. That makes it a lot easier, that’s the main reason why I am still playing,” Campbell said in reference to his possible retirement. “I want that jewelry, that place in history. I want to come back every 10 years, have those Super Bowl tours and be a part of history.”
Sharpe and Woodson are part of that legacy. If Campbell can win it all, that will make his time in Baltimore just as complete, and certainly more rewarding.
No Ravens acquisition has ever promoted as much goodwill so quickly.
“Calais is a proven leader both on the field and in our community,” said Heather Darney, the Ravens’ vice president of community relations and executive director of the Ravens Foundation. “He sets an incredible example as someone who doesn’t just talk about helping others, but through his demonstrated actions. Since Calais joined the Ravens right as the COVID-19 pandemic began impacting the country, he has been limited in how much he’s been able to physically visit with those in the Baltimore community.
“Yet undoubtedly, his presence has been felt through various donations, distributions, and genuine acts of kindness. We’re so appreciative for Calais’ commitment to serving Baltimore, and we know his philanthropic spirit is also being instilled into our younger players.”