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Preston: Former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis' versatility, leadership made him best MLB ever

Sports columnist Mike Preston has covered Ray Lewis pro football career from the start. He reflects on Lewis career and his induction into the Hall of Fame. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)

Ray Lewis could have played in any era of the NFL, which is why he is the greatest middle linebacker ever.

There have been other great ones, such as the Chicago Bears’ Dick Butkus, the Green Bay Packers’ Ray Nitschke, the Atlanta Falcons’ Tommy Nobis, the Kansas City Chiefs’ Willie Lanier and the Baltimore Colts’ Mike Curtis, but they weren’t complete players like Lewis.

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A lot of them wouldn’t have been on the field on third down or in passing situations in today’s game while Lewis never came off the field. He could easily cover a running back or tight end and was the first middle linebacker who could run sideline to sideline without losing a step.

In the era before him, most middle linebackers simply had to be agile from tackle to tackle. Like Butkus and Curtis, Lewis put fear in opposing players, and he took away their will to play against him. Just ask former running backs Eddie George, Corey Dillon or Jerome Bettis.

But what made Lewis even more special was his leadership ability. He practiced and played hard on every snap. He motivated his teammates, especially the younger players. He could do it with his performance or verbally.

“He might have been the greatest leader in the history of football,” said Ravens Hall of Fame offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, who was selected by the Ravens in the first round of the 1996 draft along with Lewis. “He could get people to follow him. He had that kind of charisma.”

Lewis was a two-time Super Bowl champion, selected to the Pro Bowl 13 times and was named the Defensive Player of the Year in 2000 and 2003. He impacted the game and became the one time model for NFL middle linebackers.

He is the best. Period.

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