The Baltimore Ravens' stocky nose guard represents the definition of a blue-collar football player. Gregg wrangles with massive offensive lineman at the line of scrimmage, using the techniques of leverage taught to him as a national champion junior heavyweight wrestler.
Gregg collapses the pocket with a determined charge. He racks up tackles. He bleeds, and draws blood. And the former University of Oklahoma standout is often underestimated because of his stout build at 6-foot and 310 pounds.
He appears even shorter because he's so compact, built somewhat like a fire hydrant. "He is just the unsung man that everybody figures, 'How can this guy keep playing pro football,'" Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He's too short. He's too this, he's too that and all he does is make plays and work his butt off for us. He's a big part of what we're doing."
In the violent scrum in the interior of the line, Gregg thrives primarily because of his brute strength and uncommon quickness. He bench presses 550 pounds, qualifying him one of the strongest Ravens. At the snap of the football, Gregg immediately jams his palms into the center's chest and begins pushing forward, disengaging from the confrontation to pursue the ball.
In his first season as a starter last year, Gregg led the defensive line with 84 tackles to go along with two sacks. "I think Kelly has proved he can play on this level or any other," said Ravens defensive line coach Rex Ryan, who coached Gregg in college. "He's short, that's all. He's not small. I know he doesn't look the part, but he's got all the intangibles that you look for. He never has a poor game."
Against the New Orleans Saints last season, Gregg had 10 tackles with a sack. Mostly, Gregg gets by on hustle and a relentless attitude. The questions about his size don't faze him. "I love that guys underestimate me because of my height and that works to my advantage," Gregg said. "People are always trying to bring you down, but if you do what you are supposed to do who cares about your size? "I don't have a chip on my shoulder about it because the people whose opinion I care about are teammates and family, not critics."
At Edmond High School (Okla.), Gregg won three state wrestling championships and he routinely whipped the Sooners' heavyweights in college although he never joined the team. His wrestling background continues to come in handy. "Playing nose guard is very similar to what I did in wrestling," Gregg said. "It's all about leverage and balance. The lowest man wins. You get under people's pads and you never underestimate anybody. Being a wrestler is just like being in the trenches." Added Ryan: "When you go back in the history of the game, most of your great nose tackles were great wrestlers."
Although Gregg is one of the most approachable Ravens off the field, he possesses a mean streak on it as offensive guard Mike Collins learned last summer. Gregg responded to what he considered a cheap shot by Collins by bulldogging him to the ground and bouncing the back of his head off the ground several times. It took several players to pull Gregg off of Collins. "Kelly's a great guy, but everybody's got that wick and when it burns out Kelly is no one you want to mess with," said Ryan, who recommended signing Gregg the day after the Philadelphia Eagles cut him in 2000 when he didn't want to accept a demotion to the practice squad.
Retired Baltimore defensive tackle Tony Siragusa coined the nickname, 'Buddy Lee' for Gregg after the figurine in a national jeans commercial. The moniker has stuck. Now, that Siragusa has retired and Sam Adams and Lional Dalton have long since departed, Gregg is the Ravens' main man in the middle of the line with depth provided by Maake Kemoeatu and rookie Aubrayo Franklin. "I just keep working hard," Gregg said. "If I wasn't playing in the NFL, I'd be trying to get in a game back home on the sidewalk."
Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.