By using his leverage, Gregg becomes a force

Wrestling background beneficial to defensive tackle

November 11, 2006|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN REPORTER

Of the things you can't question about defensive tackle Kelly Gregg - like his relentlessness, his passion and his significance to the Ravens - add another no-no: his toughness.

On a second down and 10 from the Cincinnati Bengals' 27-yard line Sunday, running back Rudi Johnson took a handoff toward the middle of the line of scrimmage before bouncing to the left and getting tackled by Gregg and linebacker Adalius Thomas after a 5-yard gain.

During the play, Johnson's knee hit Gregg's helmet, and the 6-foot, 310-pound lineman appeared to sway after standing up. Although Gregg returned to the line in anticipation of the next play, Ravens coaches ordered him off the field.

Several days later, Gregg said he could've played.

"He caught me there for a second, but everything's OK now," Gregg said yesterday after Ravens practice. "That's just the mentality we've got as a D-lineman. We'll play whenever."

That play illustrates the determination Gregg has used in his career in the NFL. Once considered too small to play defensive tackle in the NFL, Gregg has continued to make a big impact for the Ravens.

Gregg leads all defensive linemen on the team with 51 tackles and is fourth overall, trailing only linebackers Ray Lewis (97 tackles), Bart Scott (74) and Thomas (53)

Gregg also leads the team in fumble recoveries with two and has 1 1/2 sacks this season. The seven-year veteran who was originally drafted by the Bengals out of Oklahoma, however, sidestepped praise for his success, deflecting credit to defensive line coach Clarence Brooks and defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.

"My coaches do a good job of stressing, `Just don't be out there to be a robot. Try to make plays,' " Gregg said. "I'm not the biggest guy, so I really have got to focus in on my technique."

Gregg has been especially proficient in his ability to shed blockers, a technique that has been aided by his background as a three-time state champion in wrestling in high school.

As in wrestling, Gregg is frequently engaged by his opponent and has to shake off the blocker to get to either the running back or quarterback.

"He's the best leverage player I've ever been around," Brooks said. "Leverage is the key to everything. It's key to be able to fight off bigger bodies and play blocks as a defensive lineman. His background as to how to use his hands, how to work for leverage and how to maintain leverage is a plus for him."

Gregg is on pace to register 102 tackles, the same total he posted last season. That would be good enough for fourth place among the defensive players - which is where he has finished in the past three seasons, including a career-best 104 tackles in 2003.

"I'm just trying to be consistent," Gregg said, adding that he has gained from practicing with fellow starter Haloti Ngata and backups Dwan Edwards and Aubrayo Franklin. "We all try to push each other. It's just all about working together and winning."

When the Ravens visit the Titans tomorrow, Gregg will see a familiar face in Tennessee center Kevin Mawae, a six-time Pro Bowl selection who spent most of his career with the New York Jets before signing with the Titans in the offseason.

With Mawae, the Tennessee offensive line has allowed just 11 sacks this season, which is tied for third best in the NFL.

"The addition of Kevin Mawae has been really good for us," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "He's experienced, he understands protections, he communicates well. We are young. We've got two second-year tackles and a third-year guard and then Kevin and [ninth-year guard] Benji [Olson]. We're young, and I think Kevin has had a lot to do with that [improved pass protection]."

Gregg is aware of Mawae's prowess as a center and said he is looking forward to meeting his rival for the third consecutive year.

"He's an all-around good player," Gregg said. "He's a seasoned guy, and he knows all of the tricks. He's one of the quickest offensive linemen in the league. It's going to be a tough game for us."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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