Not too long ago, Ma'ake Kemoeatu had a knack for swallowing up opposing blockers and running backs with remarkable efficiency. But then the nose tackle was beset by injuries, sitting out two of the last three seasons.
Kemoeatu, 33, is eager to revive the past, and his comeback has begun with the Ravens, who signed the free agent on May 2.
"I'm trying to prove that I can still play football," he said. "I do feel like I've got a chip on my shoulder. I feel like I still have another three or four years in me. So this year, I'm going to give it a shot."
Kemoeatu sat out the 2009 campaign after tearing his right Achilles tendon and then missed last season to let a shoulder injury that cut short his stay with the Washington Redskins in 2010 to heal.
During that time away from football, Kemoeatu's weight ballooned to over 400 pounds. But working out reinvigorated his desire to play football.
"Last year, I didn't think so at first, and I thought, 'Maybe I'm done,' " the 6-foot-5, 345-pound Kemoeatu recalled. "But then I started working out. I was 415 [pounds], but then I dropped 70 pounds and I started feeling like, 'Man, you know what? I can still do this. I can still play.' But I am playing with a chip on my shoulder. I need to prove that I can still play. If I can stay healthy, I can do another three or four more years."
Kemoeatu, who started his career with the Ravens and played here from 2002 to 2005, said he dropped the weight by adhering to a diet that emphasized protein and vegetables over sugar and refined flour. Greasy steaks and other fattening foods were replaced with healthy shakes. Late-night dining was banned altogether.
"It's like being in a faithful relationship. If you're faithful to your diet, you're going to lose it," he said of sticking to the regimen. "I took it like that."
The Ravens have wasted little time testing Kemoeatu's conditioning, asking him to fill in for three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata on the first defensive line with nose tackle Terrence Cody and defensive end Arthur Jones.
Center Matt Birk has tangled with Kemoeatu frequently during the first three days of training camp and came away impressed with his mobility.
"He's a big, strong guy that can move," Birk said. "That's what makes a good NFL defensive lineman. I've played against him in games before and he's been a good player for a long time. He understands the position and can play a lot of different techniques for different fronts. So he's a great guy to have in the rotation for us."
J.Smith doesn't finish practice
Cornerback Jimmy Smith appeared to injure his leg during Saturday's practice and did not participate in the remainder of practice. Smith battled leg cramps Friday, but the injury is not expected to be serious.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees said he wasn't sure of the severity of the injury, adding, "I think it was something in special teams. I don't know exactly what it was, but it was in the special teams practice that he did something. I really don't know exactly what it was."
Cornerback Lardarius Webb, excused from Friday's practice to attend to a personal matter, returned and participated in Saturday's session. Offensive tackle Ramon Harewood (rolled ankle) and center/guard Justin Boren (undisclosed) missed practice for the second consecutive day.
Cameron unfazed by McKinnie's absence
Bryant McKinnie's continued absence for personal reasons may have forced the offense to shift Michael Oher from right to left tackle and rotate rookies Kelechi Osemele and Jack Cornell and Cord Howard at right tackle, but offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said he's not worried about not having McKinnie in camp.
"You just let it play out," Cameron said. "All these things in training camp – you see it all over the league — the season is not tomorrow. So you just let things play out. It's an opportunity for a K.O. [Osemele] or another guy. It gives Michael Oher some work at left. I think we have a good feel — depending on if things work out — of what Bryant can do at left tackle. And obviously, we have to have Plan B anyway. So no one's worried about it. It'll play out the way it should play out, and we'll be ready either way."
Cameron said any unease is wiped out by Oher's presence.
"If you talk to linemen over the years, even the ones that play pretty good, they all tell you that it's in that fourth or fifth year where everything just starts to gel and slow down," Cameron said. "And Mike, the way his mind works, he is such a team guy. 'Right tackle, left tackle — Coach just tell me where you need me.' All tackles aren't that way. Some see themselves as a right or a left. We've got the right guy. It's great to have a guy that can play either way, especially a guy that can be a great left tackle."
Upshaw looking to shed some weight
Rookie outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw is trying to reach a weight of 270 pounds set by the coaches. He declined to say how much he has to lose to get to that goal, but he said he would reach it this season.
"Every day, I'm coming in and getting extra conditioning with Bob [Rogucki, the team's strength and conditioning coach]," said Upshaw, who did not finish Saturday's session after appearing to injure his right shoulder. "So hopefully, I'll get down there soon [during] preseason. But eventually, I'll be there. Like I said, I'm feeling good with my weight right now, and when I get down to 270, I'll feel better."
So far, Pees likes what he has seen, saying, "I think the OTAs were great for him. He got a ton of reps in OTAs. These first couple of days here, I don't know how many reps he's gotten, but it's been a lot. So I think he's coming along. He's progressing pretty well."