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AFC North: Fired-up LB Lewis sets the standard in Baltimore

Leaders come in all types. Some are quiet, some flamboyant, some spiritual, some charismatic. But in the NFL, they all have one thing in common: They are the guys their teammates follow in tough times and rally behind, the guys setting the tone at practice, the first ones there, the last ones to leave. They're the ones who have no fear of game deficits or the two-minute warning, the ones players turn to for direction in trying to achieve the ultimate team goal -- winning on Sundays. This week, identifies the squad leaders of each team.

It figures that in the AFC North, where all of the teams typically face harsh weather in the latter part of the season, three-fourths of the primary leaders can be found on defense.

Even less surprising is that they all play linebacker, a natural position of leadership and where the grittiest members of the squad can usually be found.

Here's the rundown:

AFC North squad leaders

Ravens: LB Ray Lewis

It wouldn't be a stretch to call Lewis the league's most powerful leader, the best example of how much impact and influence a player can have beyond his performance.

First and foremost, it starts with Lewis' stature as one of the very best defensive players in NFL history and arguably the greatest of the decade. With 11 Pro Bowls, two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards, and a Super Bowl MVP selection, he has long been the face of the Ravens' franchise and has a great deal of credibility with everyone in the organization. During games, Lewis is a vocal presence on the field and the sidelines, providing constant inspiration and encouragement to his teammates while also doing plenty to spark the home crowd.

But he also leads during practice, in the locker room, and the weight room. Younger players look to Lewis for both technical guidance and general insights into what it means to be a professional football player.

Bengals: QB Carson Palmer

The Bengals have two of the NFL's bigger personalities and high-profile players in receivers Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens. But neither qualifies as a prominent leader.

That distinction belongs to Palmer. He isn't vocal; he is a true leader by example. Palmer is a solid player, performing well enough to command respect from his teammates. Yet the biggest reason they're willing to follow him is that they can see he is exceptionally driven, level-headed, and professional. They admire the fact that Palmer makes a genuine effort to maintain an open line of communication with all of the key members of the team.

You will often find him gathering offensive teammates in small groups after a game to discuss certain aspects of what took place on the field, and will follow that up with further discussion at the team facility. Palmer also is always quick to publicly take responsibility when things go wrong.

Browns: LB Scott Fujita

Fujita is a strong, vocal leader on a young team where such a presence is particularly important as it goes through a rebuilding process. Fujita's experience and significant contributions as a player give him a great deal of credibility with his teammates.

His tenacious style of play is contagious. Fujita also sets an excellent example with his tremendous work ethic and community involvement. You will constantly find him with his face in a playbook, trying to maximize all of the time he has to study the opposition. Fujita makes a point of talking with younger players on defense to make certain they're up to speed on all aspects of the game plan and each opponent.

In addition, as the Browns' NFLPA representative, he is diligent at staying on top of all key league issues and everything pertaining to the negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, and making sure his teammates are updated accordingly. Fujita isn't afraid to speak his mind in standing up for the players' position.

Steelers: LB James Farrior

The Steelers are a consistently successful team with several prominent players, so it isn't easy to identify one as a leader. A team that has won two Super Bowls since 2005 and sent plenty of players to the Pro Bowl would figure to have a fair amount of self-motivation to go along with the high-energy tempo set by coach Mike Tomlin.

But it's hard to ignore all that Farrior, in his 14th NFL season, brings to the team beyond his steady play. What sets him apart from the rest is that he is recognized throughout the Steelers' organization as a consummate pro. His teammates and coaches respect the fact that he understands all aspects of the business of football on and off the field.

Farrior leads by example and commands the respect of the entire Steelers locker room. His leadership is primarily based on his ability to keep everyone on the same page in Dick LeBeau's complex, zone-blitzing scheme. Despite being surrounded by stars such as Troy Polamalu and James Harrison, Farrior is the glue that helps keeps together one of the consistently dominant defenses in the NFL.

Follow Vic Carucci on Twitter @viccarucci.

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