The key to Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis' longevity? Hard work.
About a month after last season ended, Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano received a text from a friend that read: "I'm watching one of your players run in the sand for an hour."

Later that morning, another text flashed on Pagano's phone: "Now, I'm watching your player swim 30 minutes in the ocean."

When Pagano finally asked for the name of the player, it was as if he already knew the answer: Ray Lewis.

The enduring face of the franchise is entering his 16th season — a feat impressive for any NFL player, much less an inside linebacker — and the secret of Lewis' longevity is really no secret at all.

The 36-year-old Lewis prides himself on outworking everyone, whether it's on the field, in film study or inside the weight room.

Lewis' 210 games played rank fourth-most among active players, but the others ahead of him are a kicker (Jason Hanson), long snapper (David Binn) and fullback (Tony Richardson). None of them have been in as many high-impact collisions or logged as many plays as Lewis.

That's why coaches praise him and players look up to him. Even baseball's "Iron Man" admires Lewis' durability.

"The fact that Ray has been able to play the game at such a high level for so long is amazing to me," said Cal Ripken, who holds the baseball record for consecutive games played at 2,632. "His passion for football is clear and I would imagine that it is that love of the game that keeps him going so strong. As a Ravens fan, I have enjoyed watching him play since his career began here in Baltimore."

Just like no one can talk about Orioles history without mentioning Ripken, the same goes for Lewis.

He is the longest-tenured Raven on this roster by six seasons (Ed Reed is second). The Ravens actually selected Ray Lewis in the draft before they had selected their team colors.

Lewis did not play in the Ravens' second preseason game, a 31-13 win over the Kansas City Chiefs at M&T Stadium Friday night, because he has been excused from team activities to deal with a serious family medical issue. He rarely misses time due to injury; he has played in 14 or more games in all but two of his 15 seasons.

Lewis is the team's ultimate survivor, lasting through three head coaches, two salary-cap purges (2002 and this year) and one trip into free agency. This year's first-round pick, cornerback Jimmy Smith, was 8-years-old when Lewis played his first NFL game.

While few players have lasted as long as Lewis, even fewer have been playing as well at this stage of their careers. Lewis was the highest-rated defensive player in an NFL Network poll of current players and ranked No. 4 overall behind Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson.

"He's still playing as well as any middle linebacker in football today," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I want him to play as long as he wants to play, and I think he'll know when it's time. But as he has told me before, it's not time."

Trying to figure out that "time" is as difficult as breaking a Lewis tackle.

He recently said he may retire this year if the Ravens win a Super Bowl, but he doesn't guarantee it.

"I don't know when it will all be over for me," Lewis told CBS Sports. "People want to use my age against me. They say I'm too old. People fear getting old. I don't fear that because now I have wisdom and a tough body to go with that wisdom."

When Lewis will end his Hall of Fame career has been a hot topic in recent years.

Four months ago, Lewis hinted that he will play for two more seasons, telling the NFL Network that he can't see playing football past 37. His contract runs through 2015.