Ravens' blue-collar defensive line long on grit

WESTMINSTER -- Blue-collar to the bone, the Baltimore Ravens' defensive line might lead the league in obscurity.<br> <br> This undecorated and undersized unit is definitely short on recognition without any Pro Bowl selections, but is nonetheless highly regarded for results built from a collective work ethic, technique and toughness.<br> <br>

Between the grit of nose guard Kelly Gregg, the determination of end Marques Douglas to recover from knee injuries and the ability of Tony Weaver to hold his own against brutish blockers, it's a picture of substance over style.

"A lot of people say the defensive line doesn't have a personality, but our personality is that of the Baltimore people," said Douglas, who has overcome two torn anterior cruciate ligaments during the last four years. "We bring our hard hats to work everyday and we don't let obstacles deter us from our ultimate goal.

"In my opinion, we're the best defensive line in the NFL. We are definitely the most underpaid defensive line in the NFL, but our actions are going to speak louder than our words."

Despite averaging only 293 pounds, markedly less than most NFL defensive lines, the Ravens' front three rarely get pushed around.

It's a testament to the players, but also to the tutelage of defensive line coach Rex Ryan, who many league observers have earmarked for a future defensive coordinator job.

The Ravens ranked third in the NFL against the run last season, allowing 3.4 yards per carry, leading the NFL in sacks with 47 and allowed the fewest yards per play (4.2).

"Our image is one I would never want to stray from because we all play with a little chip on our shoulder," said Weaver, a former second-round pick from Notre Dame who led the defensive line with five sacks. "Our mentality is we have something to prove."

The Ravens once featured 350-pounders in Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa along with Pro Bowl pass rusher Michael McCrary. Now, this is a low-key group compared to those oversized bodies and personalities.

Gregg, a stocky Oklahoma native who excels due to his strength (bench presses 500 pounds) and championship wrestling background, seems to epitomize that attitude. Last season, the 6-foot, 310-pounder led all NFL linemen with 104 tackles.

"The first time I saw that guy, I thought he was a walk-on," Weaver said, "but the second I saw him play with that low pad and technique I knew this guy was a player."

Gregg was rewarded with a five-year contract last season that included a $2 million signing bonus and an average base salary of $1.5 million. He was previously released by the Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles.

"Look at where we come from and it's all about hard work," Gregg said. "It's not about where you start. It's where you end up. We might not be the most talented, but we take care of business."

An unrestricted free agent after this season, Douglas noticed the way the organization embraced Gregg and hopes for a similar financial outcome. An undrafted player from Howard University, Douglas had a career season in 2003 with 90 tackles and 4 ½ sacks.

"Nobody was happier than me when Kelly Gregg got his money because I know how hard he works and how much he deserved it," Douglas said. "I have to trust that they will take care of me the same way they took care of Kelly. It's a business, but I love working here."

The Ravens ranked sixth in rushing yards allowed per game, surrendering 96 yards per contest and allowed only two 100-yard rushers: San Diego Chargers All-Pro LaDainian Tomlinson and former Miami Dolphins runner Ricky Williams.

About the only major criticism the defensive line has garnered followed the Ravens' 20-17 playoff loss last January to the Tennessee Titans. Eddie George and Chris Brown combined for 165 rushing yards on 40 carries.

Ryan has scoffed at the notion that his players wore down at the end of the season, but general manager Ozzie Newsome cited the Titans' game as a reason for drafting 6-3, 315-pound Oregon State defensive lineman Dwan Edwards in the second round.

"We didn't finish the season the way we wanted to," Douglas said. "There's no excuse for that."

The defensive line totaled just 13.5 sacks, and low sack numbers tends to equal no Pro Bowl selections.

"I'm not going to lie because a little recognition would be nice," Weaver said. "It's like we're in the shadows."

Douglas said the defensive line is a close-knit outfit that regularly gets together for dinners. Shooting pool at Weaver's home is a popular pastime.

"I know I can count on all of these guys," Douglas said. "We're family."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.


 


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