Cody on the comeback trail

OWINGS MILLS -- Dan Cody will carry more than his luggage into the team hotel lobby today as the Baltimore Ravens report to training camp in Westminster. The outside linebacker has a scar on his right knee as a surgical reminder of the devastating injury he suffered during his first steps in the NFL along with an upbeat attitude after experiencing the frustration of a lost season.

Without being hit a year ago during the first practice of camp, Cody awkwardly shredded his knee while attempting to pursue a reverse play.

Now that he's almost completely recovered from a sprained anterior cruciate ligament that abruptly ended his rookie campaign before it ever started, Cody is intent on fulfilling the promise the Ravens envisioned from him in 2005 when they drafted him in the second round.

The intense, quiet former University of Oklahoma star was described by Ravens coaches and scouts as having Michael McCrary qualities as a football player and as a person.

"What happened to me was so disappointing because it happened so fast and I never really got a chance to show what I can do," Cody said. "The whole thing was just so strange to get hurt the way I did and it took so long to settle in that I had torn up my knee.

"Every day, I get closer to being 100 percent. I don't feel like I'm limited in any way. I can't wait to play football again. I'm just glad that people haven't forgotten about me."

Cody has haunted the weight room at the team's training complex for months, often working in solitude to push his knee through a grueling rehabilitation. That regimen included going beyond his pain threshold to regain his flexibility and trademark burst.

Team officials have been extremely impressed with Cody's attitude, noting how the 25-year-old has never gotten down on himself and has always asked, ‘What's next?' in his bout to return to football shape.

"It was pretty lonely around here in January and February," Cody said. "The most amazing thing is how quickly all the time went by. I had a lot of work to keep me busy and focused on what I needed to do."

Because the 6-foot-5, 255-pound converted defensive end has made such a strong comeback bid, the team plans to use him as more than a situational pass rushing specialist. Cody is likely to play outside linebacker and work into the lineup on first and second downs if there are no medical setbacks and he sheds the rust.

"We're excited about getting Dan back because he's exactly our kind of football player," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "Dan is a tough guy with talent and we have big plans for him. It's a shame what happened to him last year, but we're thrilled that he's back now."

There are some defensive schemes where Cody and fellow outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Adalius Thomas could operate on the field at the same time.

Suggs and Cody are both capable of playing with their hand in the dirt as rush ends, and Suggs gained experience as a drop linebacker last season. Plus, Thomas can play safety in a pinch despite weighing 270 pounds.

"We have a lot of flexibility on defense with all of those guys," Ryan said. "That lets us mix and match personnel because of the things they can do."

Cody participated in team drills during minicamps without incident other than a minor bout with tendinitis. He occasionally flashed the upfield speed and explosiveness he demonstrated at Oklahoma where he registered 25 sacks and 42 quarterback pressures in 42 career games.

Last season, Baltimore finished tied for eighth in the league with 41 sacks. However, the defense rarely generated consistent pressure on the quarterback as Thomas led the team with nine sacks and Suggs posted a career-low eight sacks.

That's where Cody's return could pay dividends.

There's still a learning curve, though, since Cody exclusively played defensive end in college where he was named first-team All-Big 12.

"They brought me in here and switched my position and that was the plan all along," Cody said. "That's stayed true to now and I've been learning the packages. I was still in all the meetings last year. It felt kind of like a redshirt year."

Although he still walks with a slight limp and had to essentially relearn how to run, Cody doesn't seem to have been slowed significantly despite the damage he incurred to his knee.

As Cody pointed out, his injury could have been a lot worse.

"Your speed is probably one of the last things you gain back and it's the first thing you lose," Cody said. "I can still run fast. The toughest thing was probably getting my feet and agility back as far as changing directions."

Although well-coordinated as a former all-state high school quarterback, running back, fullback, tight end, wide receiver, linebacker, defensive end and free safety in Ada. Okla., Cody fell down helmet-first during his initial forays at side-to-side movement.

"You just get up and try again," said Cody, who led the Big 12 with nine sacks as a fifth-year senior.
For Cody, it's been 1 ½ years since he played in a football game, last competing against the USC Trojans in the January, 2005 Orange Bowl.

After overcoming a bout with clinical depression during college and the knee injury as a rookie, Cody is savoring getting back on the field and, hopefully, remaining healthy.

"What's done is done and now it's all about moving forward," Cody said. "Everything in the past is a whole different life. I want my presence to be felt. I want to find my place, wherever that is."

Aaron Wilson writes for Ravens Insider and the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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