Kelly Gregg, the Ravens' undersized nose tackle, is one of the team's biggest sports fans. Sometimes when things get a little dull at the Ravens' complex, Gregg will discuss topics such as whom the Washington Wizards should draft in a manner befitting a talk radio host.
Consequently, Gregg knows exactly the perception of his position.
Offensive line, receiver, quarterback and defensive tackle were generally acknowledged as needs for the Ravens heading into this offseason. The first three were addressed via free agency and the draft, and there are some who are still wondering when the team will take care of No. 4.
Blame Gregg's 6-foot, 285-pound frame, slight numbers for the middle man in a 3-4 (three linemen, four linebackers) scheme, rather than his production.
"You read that, but what can you do about it? You just have to play your game," Gregg said. "It's great just to get a chance to play. Yeah, everyone wants a big guy that looks good on paper. I'm just a guy that goes out there and tries to do the job, and I don't get caught up in all of that.
"I've been hearing the height thing ever since high school, so I'm used to it. I've never had the size, but if you go out and compete hard, they'll give you a chance."
As a first-time starter last season, Gregg led the defensive line with 84 tackles to go along with two sacks. When the Ravens did not sign a defensive tackle during the opening weeks of free agency in March or draft one with their first-round selections, Gregg's status as a starter was cemented.
Coaches argue Gregg's size is offset by his strength. Said defensive line coach Rex Ryan: "I would say now that he can be one of these elite 3-4 nose tackles. I know he doesn't look the part, but all you have to do is watch the tape."
Gregg can bench-press more than 500 pounds, was one of the top high school heavyweight wrestlers in the nation and is regarded as one of the most technically sound defensive players on the team.
"Kelly is a lot like Greg Kragen, who played with the Denver Broncos, then went to the Carolina Panthers in the expansion draft," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "He may not have the stature you are looking for, but you can't get under his pads. He plays with great leverage and is extremely strong. It's a real strength for him that he was a wrestler."
Nolan said Kragen, who played in the NFL from 1985 to 1997, also was unable to shed the perception that the team could do better at that position than him.
"If Kelly plays 10 years, that's what they'll say. That's what they said about Kragen back then," Nolan said. "The guy doesn't fit the mold but he continues to play well. You'd like to have three guys who are All-Pro, but you're not going to have that. So if you have to pinpoint what looks like to be a weak spot, but is certainly not for us, that's what they'll pick on.
"When you talk about good defenses, you think of Sam Adams- and [Tony Siragusa]-kind of guys, 400-pounders. Around here, that is what they are used to seeing. That is why we are in a 3-4 now, because we don't have those guys.
"But Kelly is an extremely good nose. If anyone is playing a 3-4 in this league after Kelly played it all last year, they would pick him up in a heartbeat if we ever let him go because he has that respect."
Gregg seems to have garnered respect among his teammates, too. Because he knows his limitations, Gregg can be the worst kind of lineman to block. Rather than attempting to penetrate or overpower centers and guards, which can lead to mistakes, Gregg is content to take on double-team blocks, hold his ground and allow others around him to succeed.
His powerful lower body keeps offensive linemen from plowing over him.
"If I was a defensive coordinator, I'd rather have a guy that stays low and plays hard than a big guy that stands up and gets his [butt] bumped," backup center Casey Rabach said. "[Gregg] fits it perfect. His genetic makeup is strange but it's good."
Good enough to where the Ravens likely will enter training camp with Gregg, backup Maake Kemoeatu and rookie Aubrayo Franklin as the tackles.
"A lot of people say they want a very big guy, but the important thing in defensive line play is leverage," Gregg said. "And I've got it built in. If I stand up, I'm still underneath the guy."