Ravens Nation was devastated when Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis tore his triceps at the end of the Ravens vs. Cowboys game on October 14. Lewis had surgery to repair the tear and was added to the injured reserve-designated to return list.

While the surgery feels like it happened forever ago, this week the Ravens announced that Lewis is eligible to return to practice Thursday.

Then Ravens head coach John Harbaugh hinted that Lewis might be back on the field before the end of the season:

“We’re going to want him to test it to see if it can hold up,” Harbaugh said. “I really don’t know where it’s at right now. Ray has been in rehab mode. He hasn’t been here from a football standpoint in terms of us seeing any of that yet. Just talking to Ray, it sounds like things have gone well. There have been no setbacks. So there’s a possibility.”

Without Lewis, the Ravens’ defense struggled to find their stride; they made some tweak and have given up the fewest points per game in the NFL (14.5).

The “Next Man Up” philosophy has worked for the Ravens without Ray Lewis. During his absence, linebackers Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe stepped up; Ellerbe is second in tackles with 81 and McClain is third with 66.

With Lewis the defense allowed 19.6 points per game and 396.6 yards per game.

Without Lewis they allowed 20.2 points per game and 344.6 total yards.

Lewis’ pending return to the field has created a buzz about whether or not he will help or hurt the team.

Former Raven and CSNBaltimore.com contributor Brad Jackson thinks that if given the chance Lewis should come back.

Jackson said “…having him on your team can only make you better…bodes well for the Baltimore Ravens and bad for their opposing teams…”

BaltimoreSun.com’s Peter Schmuck thinks that Lewis should take it slow and the Ravens should modify his role:

“When he comes back, however, it may be time for the coaching staff to consider subtly modifying his role to keep him healthy and create the most effective chemistry with [Jameel] McClain, [Dannell] Ellerbe and the rest of the linebacking corps. That’s a sensitive subject and any attempt to limit Lewis’s playing time will likely meet with resistance, but this would seem like the logical time to broach the subject.”

This is a tough subject for me. While Lewis is my favorite Raven of all time, numbers don’t lie; the Ravens are better off without him.

I want to see him on the field again, but I also know that the end of his career is near and the Ravens have to prepare for their future without him.

This is the second consecutive season he’s missed multiple games due to an injury. He’s not getting any younger and there is no guarantee that he won’t get hurt again.

I like Schmuck’s idea of modifying Lewis’ role; I think that would be best for everyone. Lewis would get to play, but he would also create the foundation for the day when 52 is no longer on the field.

By MelissaRubin

Self-proclaimed sports junkie. Lifelong Baltimore sports fan residing in DC. Baltimore Ravens are my favorite team, I'm a die-hard fan and in constant need of a football fix. Baltimore Orioles and Washington Capitals fan too. Follow her on Twitter @egoddess1