Ravens defensive tackle Kelly Gregg takes a breather during… (Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd…)
Kelly Gregg has turned what he calls a "one-night stand" into a successful career.
A castoff from two previous franchises, Gregg spent the 2000 season -- his first with the Ravens -- on the practice squad and watched the Ravens win the Super Bowl. Backing up Rob Burnett, Tony Siragusa and Larry Webster, Gregg eventually demonstrated the talent and work ethic to become an NFL everyday starter since 2002.
"I came into the league as a one-night stand and somebody picked me up," recalled Gregg, who is entering his 11th season. "That's how I look at it. I remember looking back -- and I tell the young guys -- that it took me awhile to get my feet on the ground."
Gregg's perseverance and longevity could be tested this summer as he battles veterans Brandon McKinney and Kelly Talavou and rookies Terrence Cody and Arthur Jones. Gregg, who isn't ready to be put out to pasture, said he welcomes the challenge.
"It's going to be fun," he said. "I've been competing my whole career, and that's what we do, and that's what football is. If you're not competing, you're not getting better, and I look forward to it. It's going to be fun, sweating and pushing. You wouldn't want to come back out here and lollygag anyway. You want to compete."
Gregg personifies how effort and execution can overcome stereotypes and doubts. Few front office executives and coaches thought Gregg's squat 6-foot, 320-pound frame would translate into success in the NFL.
Even Gregg points out that he doesn't have the kind of measurables that distinguish teammates Haloti Ngata (6-4, 350) and Cody (6-4, 349). But Gregg has been a model of consistency, ranking in the team's top four in tackles in six of the past seven seasons.
Gregg frequently uses footing, balance and leverage to shoot through offensive lines and either chase down running backs or apply pressure to quarterbacks.
And as Gregg gets older (he will turn 34 on Nov.1), defensive line coach Clarence Brooks said, Gregg uses his intellect to outwit his opponents.
"Because he has a very, very high football IQ, he can go out and figure some things out beforehand, and I think that's only helped him be a lot more effective," Brooks said. "He really understands what the opponent is trying to do to him. I think now, he's able to put himself in the right position to use the skills that he has to make some plays."
But Gregg is fewer than two years removed from microfracture surgery on his left knee that sidelined him the entire 2008 season. That and the departures of Justin Bannan (to the Denver Broncos) and Dwan Edwards ( Buffalo Bills) persuaded the organization to fortify the depth along the defensive line. Defensive end Cory Redding was signed as an unrestricted free agent, and Cody and Jones were drafted in April.
Gregg has served as a mentor to the new guys, especially Cody. Brooks said it's not unusual for Gregg to take Cody aside to review plays and schemes.
Gregg said he has tried to model himself after predecessors Siragusa, Webster and Michael McCrary, who took a fledgling Gregg under their collective wing. And Ngata said he knows that he can turn to Gregg anytime for assistance.
"He's always been that guy," Ngata said. "I've always gone to him for advice on technique. He's one of the best technicians that I've ever been around and ever seen on a football field. Just to have him and be around him has definitely helped me and my game. He's a great leader, too."
The second oldest member of the defensive line behind defensive end Trevor Pryce, who is 35, Gregg said he has begun contemplating his future. That's why he has expressed no bitterness and said he understands the club's contingency plans.
"You get up to 12 years in the league, [you realize] you can't play forever," he said. "It's not like I'm a kicker. ... I got hurt a couple years ago with my knee, and I just take one day at a time, one year at a time. When I came into the league, I just wanted to play five years, and now look at me. It's a lot of fun. I'm going to compete. I still feel like I'm productive. Once I stop being productive, I'll get out, and if I feel like I can't do it and I can't be productive, I'm not going to sit around here and get knocked on my head."