Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis

Sorry R. Lewis, but Ogden is best Raven ever

Only sturdy left tackle blocks off linebacker from honor of all-time No. 1 Raven

It has been the source of a major debate for years. Who is the best Raven - Jonathan Ogden or Ray Lewis?

It's really no contest. The most physical, technically sound and dominating player is Ogden. The player with the most impact on franchise history is Lewis.

It's an interesting debate because you're dealing with two of the best players at their positions in modern times, if not in the history of the NFL. And they also happen to be the team's first two draft picks.

Lewis is often the popular choice because of his charisma and leadership. He has overwhelming statistics backing him up, and he was the driving force behind the league's best defense when the Ravens won the Super Bowl after the 2000 season. He became the face of the franchise.

But let's dig beneath the surface. Unlike Lewis, Ogden didn't have any assistance from his teammates. Each week, his job was to take out the best defensive pass rusher, if not the best player, on each team.

For 12 seasons, no one did it better regardless of whether Ogden lined up against Greg Lloyd, Joey Porter or Dwight Freeney.

And it was man on man. For the nine seasons he was here, Ravens coach Brian Billick went into every game knowing he didn't have to worry about his quarterback being blindsided. He didn't have to take away from his passing game and use a tight end or running back to double with Ogden to block an opponent.

That's a huge luxury when you don't have to game plan for the other team's best player.

Weaknesses? Ogden had none. His pass-protection sets were perfect. His feet were amazingly quick, not just for a man his size but also for a man of any proportion. Ogden could take out one, two or three players on any running play.

There has never been an offensive tackle with his combination of speed, power, size and athleticism.

Lewis was as dominant in his peak years. Like Ogden, he could take away an opponent's desire to play against him. Like Ogden, he became the prototype because former great ones such as Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke couldn't run sideline to sideline like Lewis.

Each week, Lewis is largely responsible for taking out the team's top running back. And he has beaten down some of the best, including Eddie George, Corey Dillon, Jerome Bettis, Edgerrin James and Curtis Martin.

At the same time, Lewis brought an energy and a personality to a franchise that was as bland as the black-and-white practice uniforms the Ravens wore when they first moved to Baltimore for the 1996 season.

When opposing offenses play against the Ravens, the first player they game plan against is No. 52. And Lewis never comes off the field, even in passing situations.

The Ravens were, and still are, Lewis' team. His energy and passion force his teammates to play at higher levels.

His pre-game dance gets an entire city excited before home games, and he motivates the team with fiery pre-game and halftime speeches.

But unlike Ogden, Lewis had help in front of him. In 2000, he had two big defensive tackles named Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams in front of him. Now, he has tackles Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg taking on blocks in front of him, allowing him to roam untouched.

Am I saying Lewis was a product of the system? No, he was already a great player, but the system made him better. Lewis was never the kind of linebacker, even in college, who could shock and shed offensive linemen. And if he had to do that as Butkus or Nitschke did, he wouldn't have been as effective because he has a history of shoulder problems.

Ogden had no help from the system. In fact, he dominated with an offense that was predictable. The Ravens' running game was built around two players - running back Jamal Lewis and Ogden.

The Ogden vs. Lewis debate will go on for years. Ogden had 11 Pro Bowl invitations in 12 seasons, and Lewis has had nine in the same time span. Each is highly competitive and extremely passionate about football.

You couldn't go wrong by building your franchise around either, and fortunately the Ravens selected both. But if Lewis had to make his living going up against Ogden every Sunday, he would have been just like all the other defensive greats who lined up against Ogden.

Lewis would have been nullified, because Ogden has been the best player to ever wear a Ravens uniform.

mike.preston@baltsun.com
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