Duo's defense overpowering, but also largely overlooked

ON THE RAVENS

Ravens Weekend

December 21, 2007|By MIKE PRESTON

Minutes after Sunday's game against Miami ended, Ravens defensive tackle Kelly Gregg stepped out of the training room, his shirt drenched with sweat and both knees draped by huge ice bags.

Gregg had a monster game against the Dolphins, finishing with 14 tackles. He was the best player on the field, with apologies to fellow defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.

But that's nothing new in Baltimore. Everyone knows they are the unsung heroes of the defense. But around the country, they continue to be snubbed, as neither Gregg nor Ngata made the Pro Bowl.

"No, I'm not surprised. Look at our record," Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said.

But that's the problem. The Pro Bowl, just like other all-star events, is a popularity contest. I'm not going to criticize those named in front of Ngata and Gregg or challenge the legitimacy of the Ravens named to the team.

But when it comes to stand-up, blue-collar, rough-and-tumble, kick-butt, non-complaining football players, Gregg and Ngata are the two guys I want on my team.

You want statistics?

Here's the best one. The Ravens have the No. 2 run defense in the NFL behind the Minnesota Vikings. They also allow only 2.8 yards a carry.

Ngata and Gregg are two immovable forces. Ask Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca what it's like to butt heads with Ngata and Gregg for 60 minutes.

Or ask the Dolphins. On Sunday, they tried to block Ngata and Gregg with four offensive linemen instead of the usual five. That's why Gregg had 14 tackles.

It's easy to overlook Gregg. He's not the prototypical tackle. At 6 feet and 310 pounds, he's about four inches shorter and 35 pounds lighter than most who play his position.

He doesn't complain, doesn't whine. He's not some fantastic quote machine. He'd never invent a sack dance. Shoot, his nickname is "Buddy Lee."

"Even that hurts him because everyone knows him as Buddy Lee, not Kelly Gregg," Ryan said.

But if he didn't play for the Ravens, middle linebacker Ray Lewis might not be going to the Pro Bowl. Gregg runs a lot of interference for Lewis by taking on one or two offensive linemen.

It would appear that a lot of opposing linemen could swallow up Gregg, but he plays with great leverage and upper-body strength. He is surprisingly quick.

There is nothing subtle about Ngata or his game. He is a 6-4, 340-pound brute with more quickness than Gregg. Ngata, who is almost as quick as former Ravens defensive tackle Sam Adams, gets in the backfield to disrupt plays.

Whenever any offensive coordinator watches game film on the Ravens, he has to notice Ngata because of his explosiveness.

But he is not one-dimensional.

"Kelly has had a great impact on Haloti, and he has learned a lot from him," Ryan said. "He is adopting part of Kelly's game of how to shed blocks, how to use his hands more. They study each other.

"Haloti is explosive; he can hip right through a guy," Ryan said. "Kelly's technique is very strong. He is never off his feet."

They are similar to another duo that played here in Adams and Tony Siragusa. But according to Ryan, Ngata and Gregg are playing more because the Ravens had more of a ball-control offense in 2000.

Before the Miami game, Ngata had led the Ravens' defensive linemen in tackles in four of the previous five games. Gregg is third on the team in tackles with 100, and Ngata is sixth with 83.

The Ravens are allowing only 77 rushing yards a game, and few teams run inside. Even fewer teams have had success running against the Ravens' goal-line defense.

"Even while we have struggled as a team, those two guys continue to play with great pride. They are warriors," Ryan said.

Ngata will get to the Pro Bowl, probably next year. He had a breakthrough season in 2007, and that puts him on track for 2008. Also, he is a big guy who stands out and is a former first-round draft pick.

Gregg might not get his recognition. He was originally a sixth-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 1999. He has had to work his way up through the league, making a stop in Philadelphia before signing with the Ravens' practice squad in 2000.

He is wrapping up his eighth season, and the recognition has been slow to come while the pain in his knees continues to grow.

"It's a shame," Ryan said. "Because you can build a good case for either one of them to have made that Pro Bowl team."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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