The Ravens training camp battle I'm pumped for

So far it has been a slow news day, with today being one of two days on the calendar when none of America’s four pro sports leagues are playing a game. I figure now would be a good time to look ahead to Ravens training camp at the end of the month. Is that cool with you?

Oh, you’ve been looking forward to it since the end of the Orioles’ first homestand? OK, let’s do it then.

Most of the key pieces from last year’s Ravens squad — which lost in the divisional round of the playoffs — remain intact. But, as always, there will still be juicy camp battles to keep a close eye on up in Westminster. Dannell Ellerbe v. Tavares Gooden. Billy Cundiff v. Shayne Graham. Marshal Yanda v. Chris Chester (the rubber match). Mark Clayton v. the world.

The battle I’m looking forward to most is at nose tackle: Kelly Gregg v. Terrence Cody. It should be a good one — and I’m lucky enough to get a ring-side seat.

Gregg, an 11-year veteran, is a fan favorite, which really shows how much Baltimore appreciates smashmouth football. Though he’s smallish when it comes to nose tackles, he’s been strong against the run, teaming up with Haloti Ngata to plug up the middle of the defensive line. But Gregg, who will turn 34 in November, has missed 18 games over the past two seasons (including all of 2008). His contract is winding down. His time in Baltimore likely is, too, so the team wants to groom his successor at the unheralded position.

Enter Cody, listed at 6-feet-4, 360 pounds on the Ravens’ website (his actual weight is a mystery, much like the success of Justin Bieber). Baltimore drafted Cody in the second round of April’s draft, and out of the Ravens’ rookies, he should have the biggest impact in 2010. He played in a 3-4 defense at Alabama and has the strength and nastiness to contribute immediately.

Cody {photo, above, from NBC Sports} will press Gregg for playing time on first and second downs. He’ll probably be on the sidelines on passing downs, but he did show a flash of pass-rushing ability at a May minicamp when he sacked Troy Smith — two-hand touch style — on consecutive plays. When I asked Ravens coach John Harbaugh about Cody almost "pancaking" Smith, Harbaugh delivered the best one-liner of spring practices.

"I’m not going to go there. I think there’s a lot of opportunity on that, with the pancake comment, but we’ll stay away from that," he said.

Get it, Harbs.

Mount Cody’s conditioning is still a small concern, obviously, but he has clearly caught the eye of the coaching staff. Gregg isn’t going to surrender his snaps without a fight, though, so this will an interesting heavyweight bout. I can't wait to watch.

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