8 p.m. Nighttime
TV at Graves 601 Hotel in Minneapolis. Vivid big-screens in every room. I sit
there, Monday Morning Quarterbacking, watching highlight shows as if I'm in a
theater. Starbucks in the lobby too.
2:30 p.m. Dine on
(sorry, I can't break the tie) the barbecued pork at FedEx Field (I make sure
I'm hungry when I go to a Redskins game) and the crab cakes at M&T Bank
Stadium in Baltimore (better than Legal Sea Foods'). Later, an espresso from
the stand near the Qwest Field press box in Seattle.
3 a.m. Lights out
after getting callbacks from four players who were the stars of their games
that day. I'd settle for two: Hines Ward and Braylon Edwards, hopefully,
because they're always revealing.
They Want to Grow
Up To Be Like Ray Lewis
The position that
has the most talented young players is middle linebacker
lumbering inside linebackers who were your father's favorite players? They
essentially played like stand-up tackles in many defensive schemes, stopping
potent running teams cold. Big, bulky Harry Carson and Gary Reasons lined up
over the Redskins' guards in the 1980s, and they were as important to the
Giants' dominance over Washington as Lawrence Taylor was when he was flying at
denominator of middle linebackers today? Wheels," says Mike Peterson, the
Jaguars' middle man. "See the ball, run it down. See the receiver, cover
him. You're not just in a little box anymore. You're sideline to
Ray Lewis set the
standard for MLBs, beginning in 1996 as a Ravens rookie. With offenses
spreading the field more in recent years, there is a greater premium on
athleticism and speed at the position. Though Lewis has been an inside 'backer
since Terrell Suggs arrived and Baltimore switched to a 3--4 in 2003, young
MLBs such as the Seahawks' Lofa Tatupu still see Lewis as a model.
under-25 middle linebackers Tatupu and DeMeco Ryans of the Texans were Pro Bowl
starters, and rookie Patrick Willis—a half ILB, half MLB for the Niners—led the
NFL in tackles. "Today's 4--3 lets the middle linebacker run clean,"
says Barrett Ruud of the Bucs. "It's like you're playing running back at
linebacker, looking for the space to run so you can make plays."
The best and the
brightest of the new men in the middle:
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]