The injection of painkillers propped up Terrence Cody for a few hours every Sunday, the needle numbing him so he could give the Ravens whatever his body could muster before the pain returned.
The hip injury that had nagged him for more than a year prevented him from anchoring as a run defender, but there was no way he was going to let it keep him off the field. But when the big nose tackle's left elbow swelled up to the size of a small melon last season, that's what finally sat him down.
Cody missed the Week 11 game in Pittsburgh to have his elbow drained, snapping a string of 38 straight games, then gutted it out the rest of the season. In addition to the pain in his hip and his elbow, the criticism from outside the team's facility stung, too, but Cody refused to disclose the extent of his injuries and use them as an excuse for a disappointing season.
"A lot of people didn't know it," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "He didn't say anything about it. He didn't tell anybody about it. And then we found out, and he ends up having offseason surgery. So that tells me a lot about the kid right there. He took a lot of heat for maybe not playing as well as he should have, but I think to his credit, he's come back."
After undergoing offseason hip surgery that kept him on crutches into the spring and later having another procedure done on his elbow, Cody is starting to feel like he did in 2011, when he took over for Kelly Gregg as the starting nose tackle and started every game for the Ravens a year after he was drafted in the second round.
Cody has yet to live up to his draft status and become that dominant run stuffer in the middle of the defensive line. And with him now in the final year of his rookie contract, he is running out of time and opportunities to become that here. But Cody feels he has something to prove to the Ravens and anyone else who is watching.
"I was aware of all of [the criticism]," Cody said. "I've been in that situation plenty of times. Coming out of JUCO, people were wondering if I could really play at Alabama, if I could start, because I was a big guy. I proved them wrong. I've been dealing with a lot of criticism my whole life, but I've always found a way to prove people wrong. That's what I'm trying to do this year."
Cody has had a slightly different air about him this summer. He has chopped off his long braids, explaining that it was time for a change, and now sports a short-cropped mohawk. The recent sight of him hijacking a teammate's TV interview with his Forrest Gump impersonation shows that the 25-year-old still likes to clown around, but he appears to be taking his job more seriously.
And after telling a reporter about how he would wake up with sharp pain in his hip every morning last season and couldn't stand up straight for long periods of time, his face, dripping with sweat, brightened as he talked about being able to walk without pain.
"It was a difficult year last year. I was going through some things. It affected me on the field. They weren't seeing the same Cody as the year before. There were a lot of doubts about if I could still get the job done," Cody said. "I feel like this is going to be a big year for me."
For him to be on the field enough for that to happen, though, Cody must carve out a significant role among a group of defensive linemen the Ravens bolstered while Cody was rehabbing his injuries.
Days after the Super Bowl, general manager Ozzie Newsome vowed to improve the middle of his defense, which literally started with Cody at the point of attack. Privately, the Ravens were disappointed that the 2010 second-round draft pick, despite his injuries, had lost his starting job to journeyman Ma'ake Kemoeatu in 2012 and they didn't exactly dispel the notion when asked about it publicly.
The Ravens signed a pair of veterans in defensive end Chris Canty and defensive tackle Marcus Spears and drafted Missouri Southern State nose tackle Brandon Williams in the third round of April's draft. They also shuffled Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata over to Cody's old spot.
"It will just make me work harder," Cody said. "My D-line coach, [Clarence Brooks], told me before camp started that they were going to be looking at me to see how I'm doing. … I'm always fighting for a spot on the team. Everybody is fighting, draft pick or not. But I feel like I'm always fighting for a spot. Even during the season you're fighting for a starting spot."
During training camp, Cody has blended in with the second-teamers. But in the team's two preseason games, Cody pushed opponents around and was stout against the run. He recorded two tackles in each game and in Thursday's 27-23 win against the Atlanta Falcons, Cody — who isn't known as a pass rusher — even punctured the pocket and hurried the quarterback on one play.
"There is no issue with Terrence and how he is playing right now at all," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He has graded out really highly and I think he's improved. The hip being healthy is helping him it seems like, but more than that his technique is a lot better. He's playing with his hands, he's playing square and he's playing with more power, moving his feet a little better."
Added defensive tackle Arthur Jones: "He was going through a lot of stuff last year, but it's a whole new year and he is playing great. I'm excited for him. We came in together and he's a guy I want to see do well. He's playing with better technique. He looks healthier, looks faster, looks quicker."
Cody's preseason performance, coupled with the fact that none of the defensive linemen below him on the depth chart have pushed him, has quieted speculation that he could be cut or traded before the regular season. His salary cap number of $910,000 is also very team-friendly.
Cody can cash in next offseason if he bounces back from his injuries and shows the Ravens or another NFL team that he can still reach his potential. And for those critics who will be watching him closely again this season, Cody has a message: "Just get your popcorn ready. That's all I'm going to say."
twitter.com/mattvenselCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun