Ray Lewis isn't the only veteran linebacker on the spot. Here are three others—all with new teams this season—who face great expectations
EARL HOLMES, 29, BROWNS
After six years in Pittsburgh, he's switching from inside linebacker in a 3-4 to the middle man in a 4-3. His critics say he doesn't have sideline-to-sideline range, that his knees are creaky (he was held out of early preseason games) and that he's coming off a down year. But Holmes, lured to Cleveland by a five-year, $17.5 million deal, brings toughness and a sledgehammer style to a team that has playoff expectations. "Earl is strong, quick to the ball and sheds blocks well," says Bengals fullback Lorenzo Neal. "He won't have the speed around him that he had in Pittsburgh, but he's still a playmaker." He'll need to be that and more with Pro Bowl outside linebacker Jamir Miller sidelined for the year after tearing his right Achilles in the preseason.
BILL ROMANOWSKI, 36, RAIDERS
He was dumped in the off-season by the Broncos, who preferred to go with the younger Ian Gold, but Oakland thinks Romanowski has a couple of productive years left. He'll be an every-down player and, because of his versatility, should be the best outside linebacker the Raiders have had in years. Not lost on an aging team that is built to win now is the fact that Romo has four Super Bowl rings (two with San Francisco, two with Denver). Considering his renegade reputation, he should fit right in with the Raiders. And wouldn't you love to be in the locker room before those two games against the Broncos?
JAMIE DUNCAN, 27, RAMS
After four seasons with Tampa Bay, Duncan replaces London Fletcher, who left for the Bills in free agency. St. Louis likes Duncan's speed and quickness. He's solid against the run and better in pass coverage than Fletcher, and he has an excellent grasp of the defense. ( Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith was the Bucs' linebackers coach during Duncan's first three seasons there.) Tampa Bay, however, didn't feel Duncan made enough plays, and now—on a team that will be satisfied with nothing less than a win in the Super Bowl—he mans the middle for a defense that improved by leaps and bounds in its first year under Smith. St. Louis vaulted from 23rd in the league in 2000 to third last season. "He's replacing a popular guy, so he has his work cut out for him," Smith says.