The Road Back

After Missing A Large Part Of Last Season, Kelly Gregg And Three Other Ravens Returning From Injuries Believe They Haven't Missed A Step

Countdown To Training Camp

July 05, 2009|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,ken.murray@baltsun.com

Kelly Gregg attacked his offseason knee rehabilitation with single-minded devotion - scuttling through all the minicamps, pressing all that iron, going deep into therapy without mishap.

But the moment of truth - the moment the Ravens knew their Buddha-like nose tackle was back - came one morning at practice when they saw him perform his ritualistic frog jump.

"He squats down like a frog almost, with his hands on his knees," said defensive tackle Trevor Pryce, "and he bounces up and down, three or four bounces to squat his weight. The first day I met him, I saw him do it. Never in my life have I seen anyone else [do that]. That's just how he warms up. He warms up like a wrestler."

That was proof for Pryce that Gregg would anchor the Ravens' voracious defense this season in his inimitable style.

All the Ravens' players who spent part or all of 2008 on injured reserve should hope to do as well.

It's a group that includes fourth-year safety Dawan Landry, sidelined by a spinal cord concussion after a frightening Week 2 collision in Cleveland; right guard Marshal Yanda, who shattered his right knee in the fifth game; and wide receiver Demetrius Williams, who went on IR after the seventh game with a nagging ankle ailment.

The healthy return of those four players would be a huge boost for the Ravens, who have their eyes on the Super Bowl after barely missing it a year ago. Landry and Gregg would fortify last season's No. 2 defense in the NFL. Yanda and Williams would bring depth and balance for the growing offense.

As well as Justin Bannan played at nose tackle last season, the Ravens are almost giddy about getting Gregg back. Now 32, he's preparing for his 10th NFL season on a left knee that couldn't get him to opening day a year ago. He spent 10 weeks on crutches after undergoing microfracture surgery in October and the entire season on injured reserve.

When training camp starts at McDaniel College in three weeks, the Ravens will watch Gregg's progress intently. They hope for a return to form. Gregg expects it.

"I feel like I'm going to take up where I left off a year ago," he said. "I expect to get 100 tackles. That's the way I've always done it."

What Gregg adds in the center of the defense is almost immeasurable.

"He understands leverage better than anybody else," Pryce said. "He plays so low to the ground, he can't be moved. And he's stronger than everybody else. He's built like a small VW Bug. Turn a VW Bug sideways and [try to] push it out of the way ... it won't move. That's what he is."

Of all the Ravens' injured players, Landry perhaps experienced the most grueling ordeal. On Sept. 21, when he dived at the feet of the Browns' Jamal Lewis, his head and neck were bent backward. He lost all feeling in his body but not consciousness. Immobilized and taken to a Cleveland hospital, Landry regained full feeling but continued to have tingling sensations into November when he finally went on IR. He didn't have surgery until February.

"It wasn't expecting I would have surgery," Landry, 26, said. "I didn't have any vertebrae messed up. I had a contusion on my spinal canal. Samari [Rolle] had the same injury, and he was playing in four weeks."

The surgery was a success, and he was cleared to join minicamp in early May. Except for a small scar on the front of his neck and the exercises he does with a weighted helmet, Landry says he has moved beyond the injury.

"I'm fortunate to be able to move, fortunate to have a second chance to play," he said. "I thank God I'm able to still play the game I love."

New defensive coordinator Greg Mattison sensed that gratitude in both Gregg and Landry through summer workouts.

"Those two guys have been like rookies," Mattison said. "It's got to be [because] they love the game so much and at one point last year it was taken away from them."

Gregg will get a reprieve in training camp as a member of the over-30 club. Players 30 and older get every third day off in camp to refresh their bodies, a tactic coach John Harbaugh used last year.

Said Mattison: "One thing we'll do as a coaching staff will be to make sure they get ready for the games, make sure they can play as good as they can when the time comes, but not wear them out or work them to the point where something comes up."

The Ravens are looking at different parameters on offense, where Yanda will miss most of training camp with his rehabilitation and Williams will try to play catch-up from a two-year injury.

Yanda started the first five games last season - and 17 of the team's last 20 - before tearing the anterior cruciate, and medial and posterior collateral ligaments in his right knee in Indianapolis in October.

The devastating injury required two surgeries, one in October and another in January. They were the first operations of his football career.

Like Gregg, Yanda's rehab has gone smoothly. He didn't participate in organized team activities, but he was lifting and running - and putting on weight, which the Ravens like.

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