Sampsell: Lewis off to good start as analyst

Former Steelers nemesis Ray Lewis has capably made the transition from NFL linebacker to on-air talent this season, and he’s done so with expected panache.

Lewis has consistently offered strong opinions without evolving into a caricature too much.

He’s had plenty of opportunities on air because ESPN has put him on site for “Monday Night Football” every week. The all-sports network has used him in almost every possible way during studio shows, too.

Some of Lewis’ strongest moments came in the past couple of weeks, specifically when focused on the penalty and fine NFL officials imposed on 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks for hitting Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

Lewis offered to pay half of any fine, even brandishing his credit card during an on-air segment.

Sure, it was made-for-TV bravado – especially because other people are not allowed (at least according to the letter of the law) to help NFL players or officials pay fines. And it was irrelevant because Brooks said he would never accept such support (another ESPN analyst and former NFL linebacker, Tedy Bruschi, also offered to pay part of the fine).

Still, it was good TV for Lewis, and that’s what he’s there to provide. He shared a strong opinion, brought along a visual and stated his case. Best of all, it became a point-counterpoint with fellow ESPN analyst and former quarterback Steve Young but it did not become a debate.

It was mostly reasoned – at least as reasonable as possible for sports TV.

To Lewis’ credit, that’s what he’d done during his rookie TV season. He understands the medium, understands how to deliver a message and does it well. He’s hardly my most trusted NFL source, but his passion seems sincere and his perspectives are valuable after playing 17 years for the Baltimore Ravens.

Tuner tidbits

n Conversely, a commercial for the Xbox One Console with Lewis and another former NFL linebacker, Brian Urlacher, allows Lewis to share a bit more humor as he downplays his competitive nature as a retiree but then dresses in his uniform – with eye black, mouthpiece and taped wrists – just to play the video game. Good stuff.

n Six-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson and actor Ken Jeong (“Hangover”) both recently served as guest hosts for “SportsCenter” – moves that boosted ratings each time for the nightly highlight show on ESPN. Next up? Multiple sports media outlets have reported that actor Will Ferrell (“Anchorman,” “Elf”) will host the 6 p.m. “SportsCenter” on Thursday.

n As college basketball season begins with an emphasis on rules to introduce more offense into games by calling hand fouls closer, the initial result has been some foul-heavy, slow games. Once coaches and players adapt, games could become a bit more wide open. Until then, though, games are taking longer – something that does not make TV schedulers (or some viewers) happy as games go beyond their typical two-hour broadcast windows.

n College basketball season has just started but the end of the season is shaping up as something special with TBS, TNT and TruTV preparing to provide three different broadcasts from the Final Four national semifinals. As first reported by John Ourand of Sports Business Journal, TBS will air the typical game broadcast while TNT and TruTV will provide team-specific broadcasts for the teams involved. So, if one national semifinal were Michigan State and Kansas, TBS would have one broadcast while TNT would have a broadcast specific to Michigan State and TruTV would focus on Kansas. The move is a testament to the power of the NCAA Tournament and possibly a glimpse at the future because of the ratings power of live TV sports.

Steve Sampsell can be reached at