Blue-collar Gregg a perfect fit with Ravens

OWINGS MILLS -- Michael Vick looked completely startled, his eyes widening in surprise at how rapidly Kelly Gregg was accelerating toward him. The Atlanta Falcons' elusive quarterback became even more chagrined in a moment last month when Gregg trapped him with his powerful arms and slung him to the ground with a loud thud in a textbook wrestling maneuver.

It was yet another triumph for the Baltimore Ravens' stocky, blue-collar nose guard, an underrated lineman who consistently wins the leverage game in the trenches.

Despite a lack of ideal size at 6-foot, 310 pounds, Gregg collapses the pocket with a determined charge and the techniques learned as a national champion heavyweight wrestler.

"Kelly is strong as an ox and his hand movement is so great, but they sleep on him because most people in the NFL are stuck on numbers -- the height, weight and speed -- instead of concentrating on how someone gets the job done," Ravens linebacker Bart Scott said. "Remember, Mike Singletary wasn't a big guy. You don't have to look like an athlete to be one.

"He's low to the ground, kind of a quirky guy, a strong little country boy. I couldn't imagine this defense without him. He runs that whole show."

Heading into Sunday's pivotal game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, Gregg has anchored the NFL's top-ranked defense, which has allowed just 265.8 yards of total offense and 79.4 rushing yards per contest.

Gregg has spearheaded that effort as the man in the middle for the AFC North champions, shielding linebackers Ray Lewis and Scott from blocks while penetrating the line of scrimmage himself for 88 tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.

Yet, the gritty native of Edmond, Okla., is typically ignored when it comes to accolades and has never garnered Pro Bowl recognition.

"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 opinions I care about are teammates and family, not the critics."

In the violent scrum in the interior line, a pile of massive, moving bodies, Gregg thrives primarily because of his brute strength and uncommon quickness.

He bench presses 550 pounds, qualifying him as one of the strongest Ravens. At the snap of the football, Gregg immediately jams his palms into the center's chests and pushes him backward, disengaging from the confrontation to pursue the football.

His wrestling background has paid major dividends. At Edmond High School, Gregg won three state titles and he routine whipped the University of Oklahoma's top heavyweights in college although he never joined the Sooners officially because he was concentrating on football as an All-Big 12 defensive lineman.

"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 stop moving."

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.

"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."

Gregg registered a career-high 104 tackles in 2003 along with three sacks, posting 89 tackles in 2004 and 102 tackles last season along with 2 ½ sacks.

In six seasons, Gregg has recorded 492 tackles and 13 sacks. Baltimore rewarded him with a five-year contract extension in 2003 that included a $2 million signing bonus and averages a nearly $1.5 million base salary per season.

Now, Gregg is in the midst of another strong campaign. He's come a long way from when he tried out for the Ravens and coach Brian Billick jokingly asked then-defensive line coach Rex Ryan, who coached Gregg at Oklahoma, if the short lineman was one of Ryan's bastard sons.

"He's a terrific player, tougher than nails," said Ryan, the Ravens' defensive coordinator since 2005. "He's dependable, durable and consistent. You know what you're going to get from Kelly Gregg every week.

"He's one of the premier run stoppers in the league, and he's got some pass rush in him. I don't know what we would do without having Kelly in the middle of our defense. I don't even want to think about that."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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