Ravens safety Tom Zbikowski, right, defends wide receiver… (Baltimore Sun photo Kenneth…)
When Cory Redding drives to training camp this week, the only new starter on the Ravens' front seven will likely be seen with license plates that read: HTRA.
It stands for Having The Right Attitude. Its meaning cuts much deeper.
When Redding's uncle was in a Texas jail years ago (for reasons Redding declined to discuss), he saw a guard viciously beating a fellow inmate. The guard said this was punishment for disrespecting him. On a nearby wall, there were four letters painted that Redding has embraced throughout a challenging NFL career.
"So [my uncle] took that as, as long as you have the right attitude about life, as long as you don't overstep your boundaries and be disrespectful, your life will be so much better," said Redding, whose uncle told him and his brothers that story after he was released from jail. "You wouldn't be getting beat down by life."
Redding added, "I took that to heart."
HTRA helped the 6-foot-4, 290-pound defensive end keep the right mindset through the difficulty of not living up to a big contract. It helped him remain upbeat when injuries limited his productivity the past couple of years. And it helped him keep a winning spirit throughout years of endless losses.
Redding has never been on a winning team in the NFL, although few of his teammates would know that by his hard-working yet playful approach to the game. Seven NFL seasons, seven losing ones. Six seasons in Detroit and one in Seattle have brought 84 losses and a countless amount of heartache.
Playoffs? Redding has never been part of a team that finished higher than third in a division. Every team except one has piled up double-digit losses in a season, including the historically futile 2008 Lions (who became the first NFL team to go 0-16).
Through it all, he has never stopped in his pursuit of the quarterback or the ultimate goal.
"I've held the Vince Lombardi trophy in my mind a thousand times," Redding said.
That dream could turn into football reality. A sign that his luck might be changing is how he went from sitting on the free-agent market for two weeks to joining a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
Redding was signed by the Ravens on March 22, just four days after last year's starting defensive end, Dwan Edwards, went to the Buffalo Bills. The Ravens never made a counter-offer to Edwards because they had turned their focus to Redding, who agreed to a two-year, $6 million deal.
At every offseason workout, Redding has made sure to show the Ravens his appreciation. He is going at full speed every time the ball is snapped. He is trying to take charge by making the calls on defense.
Redding, 29, is truly seizing his new-found opportunity.
"Here's a guy who's played a long time, and he's like a rookie trying to learn everything," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "I couldn't be happier with the way he's bought in immediately. He loves this team and he loves this organization already. We're expecting to win. And I think he feels that and wants to be a part of it."
A third-round pick by Detroit in 2003, Redding soon became the highest-paid defensive tackle in football. He signed a seven-year, $49 million contract (included $16 million guaranteed) after he recorded a career-high eight sacks in 2006.
But his production decreased as the injuries increased the past three seasons. A torn rotator cuff along with injuries to his groin and hand led to a one-sack season in 2007. A dislocated knee cap and torn meniscus in the other knee forced him to miss the final three games in 2008, when he had three sacks.
Redding was traded last season from Detroit to Seattle, where he lost his starting job after three games and didn't get his first sack until the 10th game. He finished with 20 tackles (his fewest since his rookie season) and two sacks.
This year could be the one where he rebounds, according to Redding. This is the healthiest he's been since signing that big contract in Detroit, and this is the best defense he's ever played on.
"The way I feel, where I'm at in this system, where I believe we're headed as a team," Redding said, "there's no question in my mind that if they needed me to be a starting defensive end this year for 16 games, I'm that guy."
But Redding laughs because he really doesn't have a specific position. During offseason camps, he's lined up at end in the base defense and moved inside on the team's nickel (pass) defense.
He's kept his weight at 290 pounds so he's strong enough to hold up at the point of attack yet quick enough to get pressure off the edge.
"I'm a defensive floater," Redding said.
Redding's demeanor has been known to change as well. On the field, the coaches see a stoic side of him.
"What I really like — besides the fact that he's a big, physical guy, [and] he's got some pass rush ability — he's a very serious leader," coach John Harbaugh said.