Stills solidifying Ravens' special teams

OWINGS MILLS — Gary Stills hasn't forgotten the feeling of being discarded, of how he suddenly became unwanted by the Kansas City Chiefs after seven years of using his body like a battering ram. Along with Baltimore Ravens special-teams coordinator Frank Gansz, the special-teams ace found himself out of a job in Kansas City after last season.

Now, Stills gets his chance to show the Chiefs (7-5) what they got rid of as Baltimore (9-3) heads to Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.
"I've been anticipating this game all year," said Stills, a 2003 Pro Bowl special-teams selection who leads the Ravens with 35 special-teams tackles. "Of course, I went on the waiver wire after they put Frank Gansz on the waiver wire. Frank was my lifeline in Kansas City. I'm glad I'm having a good season.
"I'm pretty sure the Chiefs aren't going to regret it because they feel like they have somebody to replace me. I know I'm in a better place, better team, better squad, not going to say better players because I still love those guys. I couldn't be in a better place."
Since the Ravens signed Stills to a three-year, $2.6 million contract in March three weeks after Kansas City released him, he has solidified their special-teams units by busting wedges and chasing down kickoffs and punts. In a 24-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons last month, he registered five special-teams tackles.
Between 2002 and 2005, no NFL player posted as many special-teams tackles as Stills' 113, including 25 during his final season in Kansas City. Now, the Stills-Gansz tandem has been reunited in Baltimore.
"Gary is as a good a special-teamer as I have ever been around," Billick said. "It's his passion for it, how physical he is. Frank is as consistent, passionate, focused, hard-driving coach as I have ever been around.
"He's hard on them, real hard, but they love it. They respond to it because he also loves them up in a way that they know he's doing it for a reason. They were both great additions."
Whenever Gansz wants to cite an example of how to cover kicks or block for a return, the fiery, first-year assistant has made a habit of clicking on a highlight film of his former Chiefs protégé.
"It got to the point where it was almost ridiculous because he would show Gary out there blocking, tackling, knocking guys out, doing everything you can think of," fullback Ovie Mughelli said. "He's the perfect special-teams guy, and we definitely joke with him because he's been following Frank around wherever he goes.
"They have a great relationship, and it comes in handy. Whenever coach Gansz has a question and you don't know the answer, you whisper to Gary and he tells you."
Another built-in memory bank that could aid the Ravens is Stills' history with explosive Chiefs return specialist Dante Hall, who ran back a kick for a touchdown in a 2003 win in Baltimore. Hall is averaging nine yards per punt return with one touchdown, and has a 22.8 average on kickoffs with a long return of 60 yards.
"Dante hasn't been as effective as he been in the past," Stills said. "Make no mistake, I would never underestimate that guy. He's still quick and fast. I don't know what the problem has been over there, whether it's the scheme or blocking.
"He hasn't been as I would have expected. I feel like I know what to do to stop him."
Gansz' blue-collar star pupil has built a career out of displaying reckless abandon in one of the most dangerous aspects of the NFL, excelling on special teams by running downfield at full-speed with his helmet on a swivel.
At a sculpted 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, the Trenton, N.J. native appears ideally suited for special-teams duty. Athletic enough to play both outside linebacker and defensive end, Still is a classic ‘tweener who blends strength and speed.
"Special teams is the third phase of football, it's very important and it should be taken very seriously," said Stills, who has recorded four career fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles on special teams. "That's why I do it the way I do it. It's do-or-die."
At age 32, Stills is intent on preserving himself as best he can while using his body as a weapon. Every year, he acknowledged, requires a significant personal price.
"It takes a lot more out of me now than it used to," said Stills, the Chiefs' all-time special-teams tackle leader. "I'm getting a little older and I have to have my mind and my body right to maintain my strength. Special-teams is hard work, but it's rewarding."
Stills has also put an imprint on the locker room with his colorful approach, always joking with linebacker Bart Scott and defensive end Terrell Suggs, along with his wild-man reputation on the field.
"What, because he's crazy?" middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "Gary keeps the young guys where their heads need to be on special teams. It's amazing the man he is and the character that he has. I wouldn't call it crazy. I would just call it relentless."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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