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Brandon Williams studying former Ravens nose tackle Kelly Gregg

The Baltimore Sun

During his decade playing for the Ravens, gritty defensive lineman Kelly Gregg anchored the nose tackle position in a fairly revolutionary way.

Gregg did more than just clog up the middle and prevent blockers from touching star middle linebacker Ray Lewis. As one of the most underrated players in the NFL -- he was never selected to a Pro Bowl -- Gregg was uncommonly active in pursuit and frequently penetrated the backfield as he recorded 548 tackles and 20.5 sacks in his career.

Gregg, a stocky 6-feet and 320 pounds, once chased down Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick for a sack and slammed him to the ground with a flying clothesline tackle.

That's why Gregg, a former prep heavyweight champion wrestler from Oklahoma nicknamed "Buddy Lee," is a good player for Ravens starting nose tackle Brandon Williams to study.

“I actually have," Williams said of watching video of Gregg, who's now retired and working as a sports talk radio host in Oklahoma City. "Me and [defensive line coach Clarence Brooks] talk and he put some film on my iPad, and for everyone, not just for me, to look at what he did and how he played. So, I’ve definitely been doing that and trying to work that into the repertoire. Play-making ability, his hands, his feet, the way he gets off blocks, the way he moves, everything."

Gregg would undoubtedly approve of how Williams has played, especially against the Washington Redskins Saturday night in a 23-17 victory at M&T Bank Stadium.

Williams had five tackles, including two for losses, and a quarterback hit against the Redskins. Williams' combination of mobility and power were impressive.

Like Gregg, Williams has rare strength. Both men have bench pressed over 500 pounds. At 6-feet-1 and 335 pounds, Williams is built low to the ground -- also like Gregg.

“Brandon Williams is doing a great job, Brandon Williams is a good player," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Brandon Williams has played very well, and his best game was against Washington. He was dominant, absolutely controlled the middle of the line of scrimmage. That’s something to build off of.

"I’m excited about it, but he has to keep going. He has to keep getting better. He’s a young guy. We don’t want him to get too happy with himself, and he’s not that kind of guy who would anyway. We’ll see where he goes from here.”

Because of Williams' ability, the Ravens were able to shift Pro Bowl defensive lineman Haloti Ngata to Arthur Jones' old defensive tackle spot.

As a rookie last year, Williams was limited by a toe injury and finished the season with six tackles, one sack and a fumble recovery in seven games.

Nose tackle is an extremely physically-demanding position, but Williams has embraced the dirty work that goes with playing inside and fighting through double-team blocking.

"I love it, it’s fun," Williams said. "It’s football. I’ve been playing [nose tackle] since eighth grade, and it just fits. I’m stocky and short, but it’s a great position. It also gets Haloti on the edge and rushing the passer a little bit and takes double-teams away from him, and I’m happy to have him. So, it’s good to be the nose guard.”

Williams is in much better cardiovascular shape than last year, and is noticeably leaner.

He says he's down to 22 percent body fat after ranging between 28 percent to 30 percent as a rookie.

"Definitely lowered my body fat," Williams said. "I got my body composition down. Last year, I was heavier than I needed to be. During the offseason, got a lot more cardio in and a lot more work in physically in the weight room to bring that down."

Entering the second year of a four-year, $2.675 million contract that includes a $515,000 signing bonus, Williams figures to be an important part of the Ravens' defense this year.

That means more than just occupying blockers.

"It’s always good to make plays," Williams said. "My job is to take up blockers, so the linebackers and everyone else can make plays, definitely try to get my plays in there as well, but sometimes it’s not always about making the play.

"You can make the play different ways, taking up blockers, so [middle linebacker] Daryl [Smith] can run through and make the play in the backfield, taking up a couple bodies, so someone else can get in there and make the play. You make the play by doing your job. I guess I did my job pretty well.”

awilson@baltsun.com

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