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NFL

Denver's Miller heads to Lewis' turf

| Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, 8:58 p.m.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Almost any time Ray Lewis has lined up over the last 17 years, he has been the best linebacker — if not the best player — on the field.

If Lewis is in uniform Sunday when the Ravens play the Broncos, that might not be the case.

With his rare combination of around-the-corner speed and nimble footwork that helps him beat offensive tackles, then dance over fallen quarterbacks, Denver's Von Miller is changing the equation.

“I looked up to him when I was younger,” the 23-year-old Miller said of Lewis. “I look up to him now.”

While Lewis has spent the better part of the season on injured reserve with a torn triceps, Miller is staking out Lewis' old territory as arguably the most disruptive linebacker in the game.

He was last year's defensive rookie of the year and is a favorite to be named this year's defensive player of the year. He heads into the 14th game of the season with 16 sacks, one short of Elvis Dumervil's single-season franchise record. Miller has at least one sack in the past six games, along with six forced fumbles and a total of 24 tackles in opposing team's backfields.

In other words, he is a player opposing offenses must account for in their game plans, and if that sounds familiar in Baltimore, it should. Teams have been planning around Lewis for years.

“They're both extremely passionate, they both love to play, they both disrupt games. That's about where the similarities end,” said Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who also coached Lewis during his early years in Baltimore. “Ray was probably the best inside linebacker to ever play. ... Von's an amazing edge guy, a sack man, a guy who can disrupt. I'd like to have both of them, but I'm sure glad we have Von.”

Among the story lines following Miller this week are the three fines he's received this year for hits on quarterbacks: Matt Schaub of the Texans, Cam Newton of the Panthers and Josh Freeman of the Buccaneers.

Miller has appealed all the fines. He said he isn't trying to hurt anyone but won't change the way he plays.

“It really doesn't bother me too much, because I know that's not the type of player I am,” Miller said. “It's just the type of circumstances that happened that put me in those positions.”

Lewis is eligible to come off the injured reserve list this week, though Ravens coach John Harbaugh isn't tipping his hand. Not knowing whether they'll face him, a number of the Broncos said they have to be prepared for Lewis' intensity if he is in uniform come Sunday.

“I've always kind of kidded that Ray is just as intense and passionate in the fourth quarter of the fourth preseason game as he is in the first quarter of a playoff game,” said Peyton Manning, who is 8-0 against Lewis and the Ravens, including playoffs, since 2002. “It's real, and that's pretty special and pretty unique.”

The linebackers haven't crossed paths often but when they do, Miller tries to take advantage.

“I've had the opportunity, the blessing, just to be in his presence and talk to him and pick his mind a little bit, so that's great,” Miller said.

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