Pryce is still right

OWINGS MILLS -- Other than indulging his taste for nostalgia by sporting his college jersey number all week, little seems to have changed for Trevor Pryce since his resurgent season. The Baltimore Ravens' four-time Pro Bowl defensive end still confounds blockers with his rare combination of strength and athleticism, penetrating the backfield nearly every snap despite some increased girth.

Following a season-long rebuttal to nagging questions about his durability and productivity, the challenge for Pryce is trying to duplicate his accomplishments despite the extra blocking attention he's anticipating.

Especially after tying a career-high with 13 sacks during his Baltimore debut season for his first double-digit pass-rushing numbers in six years.

"Now, I think I'll start getting targeted a little bit more," Pryce said Thursday morning after the Ravens concluded a mandatory minicamp. "Towards the end of the year, I started feeling like I felt in Denver before I got hurt where everybody is pointing at you like, ‘Hey, block that guy.' So, I think this year is going to be a lot more of that."

Judging from his output last season, though, little appears to be out of Pryce's grasp.

Pryce, 31, registered a career-high 73 tackles while forcing two fumbles and preserved a victory over the Tennessee Titans with a blocked field goal attempt, but was snubbed in the Pro Bowl balloting.

Now, the challenge is turning in a worthy encore.

"To back it up and do it again, to not be the one-hit wonder," Ravens coach Brian Billick said when asked about expectations for Pryce. "There are a lot of people that doubted him. He played magnificently for us last year. To not give into doubters who say, ‘Ok, can you do it back-to-back years?,' I have no doubt that Trevor will."

Pryce has definitely retained his sense of humor and hyperbole, performing an exaggerated microphone check Thursday before joking that he's capable of covering 40 yards in 4.5 seconds.

That would be a stretch for the 6-foot-5, 286-pounder even if he were in optimal shape. Despite his girth, Pryce remains extremely mobile and flashes some of the quickness he displayed as a highly-recruited high school outside linebacker in Winter Park, Fla., several years ago.

"I played linebacker at Michigan with No. 8 and I played defensive line at Clemson with No. 8," said Pryce when asked why he wore that jersey number this week. "I was going to play linebacker at Clemson at 280 pounds, I was really close.

"They asked, ‘Which would you rather play?' I said, ‘Who gets paid more in the NFL?' They said defensive linemen, so I said, ‘I'll go play that then."

One decade and 77 ½ career sacks later, Pryce is entering the second season of a five-year, $25 million contract that includes $10 million in guaranteed money.

This time, Pryce is no longer the new guy trying to establish himself in a locker room filled with outspoken personalities.

After only a combined four sacks during the 2004 and 2005 seasons as he dealt with a back injury that required surgical repair, Pryce was turned loose in Baltimore after growing tired of a complementary third-down role with the Broncos where he was rarely involved in the pass rush.

"The scheme, it had nothing to do with my health," Pryce said regarding his breakthrough season last year. "I was actually allowed to rush the passer and had a coach that said, ‘Your job is to get the quarterback and not drop into coverage.'"

Other than the outcome of an AFC divisional playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts, Pryce is hoping to continue what he did in the postseason when he posted eight tackles and hit quarterback Peyton Manning three times during a 15-6 loss at M&T Bank Stadium in January.

"Trying to pick up where you left off, the challenge is to start fast," Pryce said. "That's the biggest thing, nothing else. I feel better. I'm actually stronger than I was last year."

One year after resurrecting his seemingly declining career, Pryce is regarded as one of the Ravens' most invaluable defensive commodities.

"He's the best interior pass rusher in the league," Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "They're always going to have to pay attention to him.

"Do I expect Trevor to go to the Pro Bowl like he should have last year? Sure, but collectively we want to win the darn Super Bowl. He can be a big part of that."

NOTES: The Ravens ran the two-minute drill for the first time this offseason.

"It showed them they've got a little ways to go in football shape," Billick said. "They were a little gassed. They haven't done that in a while. And the first time is all about process.
BR> Did you get the verbiage out? Did you line up right? It's less about the clock and the time than getting everybody where they're supposed to be."

Held out of practice due to injuries: offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden (toe), cornerback David Pittman (hamstring), linebackers Dan Cody (knee) and Mike Smith (shoulder).

Linebacker Dennis Haley returned to practice after recently undergoing an appendectomy.

With All-Pro linebacker Adalius Thomas now with the New England Patriots, Pryce now has has the luxury of occupying two lockers.

"Maybe I don't miss him," Pryce joked. "I'm going to call him and give him a hard time."

The Ravens will hold a three-day voluntary minicamp next week to conclude their offseason schedule before reporting to training camp July 29 in Westminster.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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