Lewis injury could end great career but is he the greatest MLB?

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Lewis injury could end great career but is he the greatest MLB?

The right-triceps tear that ended Ray Lewis season could also mark the end of a career that will place him in the highest level of inside linebackers, of players, period, in the history of football.

But how highest?

CSNChicago.com operatives have seen linebackers play since the very early 1960s and evaluated available film of others before that. From that a top-five list of the greats, with Lewis finishing, well, check out the list. And yes, two of the top three middle linebackers of all time played in Chicago.

A qualifier: Understand that the middle linebacker position really didn't come into true existence until Bill George stood up from his nose-guard position and started looking around. So the sample size for MLBs in particular is necessarily smaller than the overall pool of linebackers.

The runners-up: Chuck Bednariik (saw him play in my first-ever live football game; thanks, Dad), Bill George, Sam Huff, Ray Nitscke, Chuck Schmidt, Mike Singletary

5. Jack Lambert, Pittsburgh

No way to argue with the rings. A lot of hype but when you watched closely and often, this was the ignition key behind Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood and Dwight White. Singletarys eyes were a force but the edge goes to Lamberts teeth. Or lack of same.

4. Willie Lanier, Kansas City Chiefs

Lanier was a centerpiece in one of the great defenses of all time, a member of Chiefs team won the fourth Super Bowl. Lanier had the benefit of playing behind tackles Buck Buchanan and Curly Culp but he also intercepted 27 passes in a 10-year career.

He played at 6-1, 245 pounds, about the same size as Lewis. He was nothing less than one of the best football players on a championship team.

Lanier had the misfortune of playing in the time of Jack Lambert, who was piling up rings and getting more acclaim. He shouldnt have. Lanier was better.

3. Brian Urlacher

Urlacher stands as one of the more polarizing parts of any discussion of great linebackers. One national media outlet pegged him as the most overrated player in the NFL; others rated him the best in the game, evidenced by his selection as Defensive Player of the Year in 2005 and fourth-place in 2006.

Consider this: In the defensive schemes of Dick Jauron and Greg Blache, based on front-four mastodons keeping offensive linemen controlled, Urlacher piled up 116 tackles, six sacks, three interceptions in 2001.

When Ted Washington was hurt most of 2002, Urlacher was exposed: 151 tackles, four-and-a-half sacks, seven passes broken up.

Along comes Lovie Smith and a scheme based on small, fast defensive linemen no bigger than Tommie Harris 290 for the most part. In 2005, Urlacher is Player of the Year with 121 tackles, six sacks, five passes broken up.

Where Urlacher loses style points is that he has never played with the Neanderthal gene. A lasting image of Urlacher is the laughing inside the helmet; he had some fun.

Urlacher in 2001 was running down Michael Vick (short distance). He was fast enough to spy Vick and Daunte Culpepper.

And as one longtime NFL personnel executive said in support of the ranking: If youre drafting, do you take Lanier or Urlacher? 54 was a freak.

He is also the third-greatest linebacker ever to play the game.

2 Dick Butkus
1. Ray Lewis

An incredibly close call between 51 and 52. I initially placed Butkus above Lewis, a tipping point being Butkus abilities in coverage. He played at close to Lewis 245 pounds but had a couple of inches on Lewis at 6-3.

Both defined not just the ferocity of their eras; anyone can scream and be nasty. They epitomized excellence at the game.

Its difficult to put Butkus in some sort of understandable context. In 1967 he had 18 sacks, according to one study of film from before sacks were an official stat. He had five interceptions his 1965 rookie year and had 22 for his career, tied for 11th all-time in franchise history.

But Lewis willed the 2000 Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl win with quarterback Trent Dilfer in the role of Bill Wade as caretaker. And Lewis has 31 career interceptions plus more than 40 career sacks.

And heres the thing: Lewis was in his 17th NFL season this year. Butkus had considerably less in front of him than Lewis (no Haloti Ngata, no Tony Siragusa, to name a couple) but he also was only able to get through nine seasons before the knee injuries finished him. Lewis didnt have to contend with the crack-back blocks of Butkus era but to be as good as Lewis iswas for all these years

Ray Lewis is simply the best linebacker the NFL has ever seen.

Matt Davidson stays mentally involved for fourth consecutive game off

Matt Davidson stays mentally involved for fourth consecutive game off

Matt Davidson, despite a .324 batting average and 1.010 OPS, hasn't been in the White Sox starting lineup in four consecutive games. 

For Sunday's series finale against the Cleveland Indians, Melky Cabrera got the start at designated hitter (he banged up his wrist running into a wall in left field foul territory Saturday night) with Jacob May playing in left field. Cody Asche, who started at DH in the White Sox last three games and went 0-10, is on the bench. 

A few things to note about Davidson's absence: They've come against four of the American League's best right-handers in New York's Masahiro Tanaka and Cleveland's Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. Entering Sunday's game, though, the White Sox haven't scored in their last 23 innings and only have had one runner reach second base in their last 20 frames. 

Manager Rick Renteria said ostensibly poor matchups for Davidson, who has 12 strikeouts in 23 plate appearances against right-handers this year, haven't been why he hasn't played him.

"It's not so much the matchup," Renteria said. "I think we have other guys we want to go ahead and give them the opportunity to face who they are facing today. Matty has shown he can hit anybody. It has nothing to do with it. It has more to do with putting the guys we have right now in a particular situation to experience this particular club."

Davidson said the gap in starts hasn't been an issue for him, since he's already dealt with a lull in playing time earlier this year. Davidson made his last Cactus League start March 28 and only had one at-bat between then and his regular season debut April 6, when he went 2-4 with a home run, a walk and three RBIs. 

"I'm just staying with my approach, I'm watching video and staying up just like I'd be playing," Davidson said. "As long as I'm doing that I think I'll give myself the best chance I can."

Davidson, who made his four seasons ago with the Arizona Diamondbacks, spent nearly three years in Triple-A after the White Sox acquired him in exchange for closer Addison Reed in December of 2013. When he finally broke through with the White Sox last year, he broke his foot in his first game back in the major leagues and missed the rest of the season. 

So while Davidson's starts and at-bats have been sporadic this season, he's not taking the chances he gets for granted. 

"All of a sudden you spend a couple more years in Triple-A and you see the same thing over and over again, and you really appreciate being up here," Davidson said. 

The White Sox upcoming three-game series should provide opportunities for Davidson to get back in Renteria's lineup, with left-handers Jason Vargas and Danny Duffy starting the first two games of the series for the Kansas City Royals. 

"You will see him in the lineup coming up a little bit more," Renteria said. "But we will continue to mix and match to do what we can to make sure everybody stays capable of what they need to do."

Bulls' Rajon Rondo fined $25,000 for attempting to trip Celtics' Jae Crowder in Game 3

Bulls' Rajon Rondo fined $25,000 for attempting to trip Celtics' Jae Crowder in Game 3

Rajon Rondo's emergence made sure the Bulls played on the edge but one always had to wonder where he would go over the line—an aspect Jae Crowder and the NBA figured out Friday night.

Rondo was fined $25,000 by the NBA for sticking his leg out in an apparent attempt to trip Crowder when Crowder was close to the Bulls' bench late in the first quarter of Game 3 Friday night.

[BULLS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Television replays caught Rondo's leg extending after Crowder hit a 3-pointer right in front of the Bulls' bench.

When asked Rondo claimed that due to an ACL surgery he had several years ago he had to extend his leg to keep it from getting stiff.

"When you tear an ACL your leg gets stiff on you. I always do that," Rondo said. "He may have been so deep on our bench."

Upon investigation from the NBA, it issued Rondo a stiff fine and the increasingly contentious series will take another turn Sunday evening in Game 4.

Rondo is expected to miss the rest of the series with a broken right thumb after being a key to the Bulls taking a 2-0 lead by stealing two wins in Boston last week, averaging a near triple-double.