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Calais Campbell is playing like this season might be his last ride

The veteran defensive lineman is leaving nothing on the field and is still playing at an elite level.

Baltimore Ravens v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Typically when decorated veterans players are well into the back nine of their career, it is clear that they are well past their prime and the days of them being a dominant force are in the rearview. However, in the case of Baltimore Ravens’ defensive end Calais Campbell, he is still playing at an elite level in his 14th season.

In 2020, Campbell instantly became one of the foremost leaders in the locker room in his first year with the team. However, he wasn’t as impactful on the field as he or the Ravens had hoped due to a calf strain injury followed by a bout with COVID. Even so, he was still able to record four sacks, 10 quarterback hits and was named to his sixth career Pro Bowl.

Through the first four games of the 2021 season, Campbell — whose 35 years old — has been one of the Ravens’ most dominant players, regardless of position. He’s been among the best at his position in the entire league, too, according to Pro Football Focus.

While he has yet to record a sack this season, Campbell is still quietly having a stellar second season with the Ravens both as a run defender and pass rusher. He has 13 tackles (including eight solos), two tackles for loss, five quarterback hits and his 16 pressures, which rank fourth among all interior defensive linemen in the league per PFF.

Campbell has been the ironman in the Ravens’ defensive trenches to start the season. Some of his fellow veterans have had to miss time for reasons stemming from either injuries or COVID close contacts.

Campbell’s best game of the season to date came last week in his hometown, when the team traveled to face the Denver Broncos and left with a commanding 23-7 victory. He finished as the Ravens’ highest-graded defender and overall and received a game ball after finishing with season highs in total tackles (five) and quarterback hits (three).

“When you play the game as long as I have, there’s very few of those moments that are very sentimental,” said Campbell after the Broncos game. “To be able to play in this stadium, I just kept thinking about when I was a kid and just dreaming about playing in this stadium so it was fun.”

“I know the guys knew it meant a lot to me so it was great for us to go out there and get a win.”

Campbell is in the final year of his contract and could be playing in his final season in the league if the Ravens give him the same send-off they gave franchise and NFL legend Ray Lewis nearly a decade ago. Just before they went on their second championship run, Lewis informed the team that the 2012 postseason would be his last.

While Campbell hasn’t definitively or verbally expressed his intentions of playing beyond 2021, he is playing like he is gearing up for his last ride. He has played at or near 70 percent of the Ravens defensive snaps in three of their first four games and has been full-throttle on every play.

Against the Detroit Lions in Week 3, the Ravens were severely shorthanded on the defensive line after Brandon Williams and Justin Madubuike were placed on the COVID-19/Reserve list. Campbell hardly came off the field and played a season-high 75 percent of the defensive snaps.

“I feel pretty good right now,” Campbell said following that game. “It’s football season, so things hurt. But for the most part, I know that in Year 14, I have to be smart, and I have to pace myself, because this is a long season, and to where we want to go, it’s going to be a process. But I also know that I want to be out there, I want to get a feel for the game and be the best version of myself.”

It’s hard to imagine a six-time Pro Bowler being classified as an unsung hero, but Campbell’s herculean efforts and high level of play at his advanced age aren’t being talked about or appreciated enough.

After a year in the system and an offseason where he shaped his body to better fit in it, Defensive Coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale has been impressed — but not surprised — by Campbell’s strong start to the season.

“What he did was come in bigger and stronger this year,” Martindale said. “It took him a year to see exactly where he was going to fit in our defense. I think he had a great offseason, [which] is why he’s having the success he is now. It’s great to see.”

Every football player, at every level, is coached to play like each game and or play is their last because it very well could be. Cliché aside, Campbell is dominating and doing the dirty work of a man on a mission who will do any and everything in his power to achieve his ultimate goal.

For a seasoned veteran who has had enough individual success to build a strong case for Hall of Fame induction, there isn’t left for him left to accomplish aside of reaching 100 career sacks. However, if Campbell can return to the Super Bowl for the first time since his rookie season with the Arizona Cardinals in 2008, he just might ride off into the sunset if the Ravens bring home their third Vince Lombardi trophy in franchise history.