I wanna be like Ray - Merriman already is

Shawne Merriman is to the Chargers what Ray Lewis is to the Ravens. Both players are intimidating physical specimens, strong enough to take on offensive linemen yet fast enough to excel in coverage. Both are the emotional leaders of their respective squads, fiery personalities who demand the best from those around them.

When Merriman's Chargers meet Lewis' Ravens this Sunday, fans everywhere will get their chance to find out which player does it better.

It is hard to find much not to like in the performance of either player. The Chargers and Ravens are the league's top two defenses, respectively. Merriman has recorded three sacks and an interception in just two games this season, while Lewis has a sack and an interception in three outings. Although they are both linebackers capable of taking over games, it is difficult to compare the two directly.

"[They are] different in what they are doing," said Ravens coach Brian Billick. "That is probably not a fair comparison to either one because of what [the Chargers] are asking [Merriman] to do." It is true that Merriman and Lewis are deployed in very different way. Merriman is an edge player who often lines up with his hand on the ground; Lewis patrols the middle of the field, sifting through traffic and hunting down running backs.

Despite their differing job descriptions, Merriman and Lewis appear to be cut from the same cloth. Both are as passionate on the field as they are in front of the camera. That is not to say they're attention hungry, although that may be true as well. What is means is that each firmly believes he is the best in the game and wants to make sure the whole world knows it.

Apparently, the message has gotten across.

"Some things that he does are unbelievable," said Steve McNair of Merriman. "We have to know where he is at all times and have somebody account for him."

What makes this match-up so interesting is that each star linebacker will be targeting his opponent's biggest difference-maker. Ray Lewis will be charged with keeping LaDainian Tomlinson from running all over Baltimore, and Merriman will be expected to rattle Steve McNair – the steady hand that seems to have righted the Ravens' ship.

So which player gives his team the biggest advantage?

"Ray Lewis? It's tough to put somebody else in that breath," said Ravens linebacker Bart Scott. "You have to earn a lot of stripes before I put another player in the same category as Ray Lewis."

If Merriman - who was born in Maryland and played is college ball there – can return home and lead his team to a road victory while there, he will leave town with more stripes than a Cincinnati prison.


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