Run-and-hit is their specialty

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Linebackers are supposed to be agile, mobile and hostile, or so goes the NFL creed about one of its most storied positions. That adage is likely to be revitalized again Monday in Denver. Two of the top sets of linebackers in the NFL will be on display as the Baltimore Ravens (4-0) and Denver Broncos (2-1) face off in a nationally televised game at Invesco Field at Mile High.

The Ravens' heralded group is headlined by seven-time All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis, emerging star and reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Month Bart Scott and ultra-versatile Adalius Thomas, whose athleticism is uncommon for a 6-foot-2, 270-pounder.
"I think it's a great trio," Scott said. "Apart, we have our separate specialties, but together we are a pretty cohesive group. I'd put our unit up against any unit in this league. I can say that with confidence."
The Broncos, though, aren't exactly slouches. Besides All-Pro middle linebacker Al Wilson, whom Ravens coach Brian Billick called one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL along with Lewis, the Broncos feature highly-regarded strongside linebacker D.J. Williams and Ian Gold, who's one of the fastest outside linebackers in the game.
"We feel like we're the best in the business, and I'm pretty sure Baltimore feels the same way," Wilson told Denver reporters this week. "We're not going to get caught up in who's better and who's not."
Williams took exception when he was asked whether the Ravens' linebackers are what the Broncos are striving to match.
"I don't like that question," he said.
The Ravens definitely have the edge in impact plays this season with their linebackers combining for nine sacks and three interceptions. Conversely, Wilson, Williams and Gold have just one forced fumble and no sacks.
Wilson, who has been slowed by a hamstring injury, is a former University of Tennessee teammate of Ravens running back Jamal Lewis. Like Ray Lewis, the former Golden Gloves boxer is known for his intensity and leadership.
"He is a great player," Jamal Lewis said. "He's one that you have to really account for and he's going to be flying around the field."
Like Lewis, Wilson quickly diagnoses plays and is known as a fierce tackler who plays football with raw emotion.
"I certainly wouldn't argue that," Billick said when asked whether Lewis and Wilson are the gold standard in the middle. "They both transition from recognition to action incredibly quick."
Gold leads the Broncos with 30 tackles, and appears fully recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. His sprinting ability is once again a major factor.
"When he was a rookie, he was phenomenal," Broncos defensive coordinator Larry Coyer said. "And that's what he is right now."
Rightfully so, the Ravens have an extreme amount of confidence in Lewis (53 tackles, one sack, one interception), Thomas (25 tackles, three sacks and one interception) and Scott (43 tackles, one interception).
Scott has developed into a vocal player whose sharp tongue tends to enrage opponents. Most of his statements are off-color and unprintable in a family newspaper.
"Bart is the wild man," Ray Lewis said. "His role is to go be Bart. He plays with so much passion. He really loves the game, and he really loves contact.
"He is really anxious to go and hit someone. Bart is just one of those guys who's always going to make you take the game personal even if you don't want it to be personal."
After a four-year apprenticeship that began in 2002 as an undrafted free agent out of Division I-AA Southern Illinois, Scott has surfaced as one of the most compelling stories of the season so far.
Tied for the NFL lead with five sacks with Trent Cole (Philadelphia Eagles), Tommie Harris (Chicago Bears) and Julius Peppers (Carolina Panthers) entering Sunday's games, Scott only started his first NFL game last season when Lewis tore his hamstring.
Over the first 14 starts of their respective careers, Scott has more tackles (150) than Lewis (127), sacks (nine) and pass deflections (11).
"Honestly, I'm not easily impressed, but with Bart, I am," Lewis said. "He plays the way it's supposed to be played.
"The first thing that impresses me from a linebacker is just their temperament, their mentality. If you are fighting every player that gets to that football, you've got the temperament and mentality to be a big-time linebacker."
Lewis' words could very well be pluralized Monday no matter which team is on defense.
"I just love the guys we've got," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "You've got to have linebackers to have a great defense."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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