Eric Edholm’s Team for the Ages — Inside linebackers

May 12, 2018 GMT

Brian Urlacher is going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer, very much deservedly I might add.

Mike Singletary was the hippocampus of perhaps the greatest defense of all time in the 1985 Chicago Bears.

Jack Lambert? All-time great at inside linebacker.

And from Sam Mills to Patrick Willis to Luke Kuechly, we’re talking about three of the absolute best performers and competitors to play the position for more than 30 years.

None of them made my final selections for inside linebacker on my “ Team For The Ages ” squad. Absolutely absurd. I warned you a few months ago how much I dreaded picking only three inside linebackers for this team.

But I am happy with my three. Really, I couldn’t have gone wrong.

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Ray Lewis

Say what you will about his shtick. I don’t care at all about that. I just know the dude dominated from the minute he stepped into the NFL as a 20-year-old out of Miami for a fledgling Baltimore Ravens franchise born out of the Cleveland Browns’ ashes.

Lewis showed up to rookie minicamp trying to do everything, including as many towel pull-ups as anyone in team history. For all we know, he still holds that record he set 22 years ago. What does stand is a nearly unimpeachable run as the game’s best eraser who led two title-winning defenses as bookends for a brilliant career, one only married by injury and off-field controversy.

Dick Butkus

My mom still talks about watching Butkus play in high school at Soldier Field in the late 1950s, dominating as a fullback and linebacker, even punting and kicking. And following a brilliant college career at Illinois, he stayed at home to become one of the all-time great Bears as well.

But more than that, he redefined a position. Butkus was bigger than most linebackers of the day — at 6-3, 245 pounds he’d be big even by modern standards — but could move like a jungle cat. He was the most ferocious tackler of his day. He could pry loose fumbles and fall on them (a stunning 27 recoveries in 111 games).

And Butkus also was brilliant against the pass, with 22 interceptions in an era when teams threw the ball 25-30 times a game in a 14-game season, not the 35 or 40 passes per game in a 16-game schedule. Consider this: Only one active linebacker, Karlos Dansby, has even 20 career INTs, and he’s totaled those over 212 career games.

Junior Seau

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The late, great Seau might have been one of the best eight or 10 defensive players I’ve ever seen in person. The first time I believe I saw him live was in 2000, when his 0-5 Chargers were getting smashed 57-31 by the juggernaut Rams, on their way to 5-0. Seau had to leave the game with a hamstring injury, after chasing around Marshall Faulk and the rest of the Greatest Show on Turf stars.

But I would later read that Seau was not only out there the next game, leading the team in tackles in a loss to the Broncos, but only hours after that Rams game he was working out with the team’s trainer doing extra resistance-band work. The dude was just a machine.

That was the effort he gave as one of the best players on an awful Chargers team that would finish 1-15. The same effort Seau would give as a part-time player — but a spiritual leader — for one of the best teams in history, the 2007 Patriots. It didn’t matter the record or the score, Seau was going to give more than anyone else’s maximum.

Football might have helped cost him his life, having reportedly suffered from CTE when he commit suicide. Seau committed his life to the game, and as tragic as the end result was, we still can marvel at the effort and talent with which he played — from the age of 21 up until his final game, nine days prior to his 41st birthday.

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