Brandon Williams manhandled centers during his second NFL season last year, creating enough leverage with his stocky, powerful frame to shove them into quarterbacks' faces.
Blockers were often unable to single-block the 6-foot-1, 335-pound strongman from Division II Missouri Southern, who has bench pressed over 500 pounds.
"I feel like I established respect," said Williams, the recipient of the annual Ravens Extra Effort Award from Ravens Roost No. 7 during a weekend banquet at the Hagerstown Elks Club. "Whether they fear me or not, it's my job. If you're in my way, that's the cost of doing business. ... I won't be pushed around. I can hold my own."
Williams started all but one game last season, his first as a starter, and anchored the middle of the Ravens' defense as they finished fourth in rushing defense and sixth in scoring defense. Williams recorded a career-high 48 tackles, forced two fumbles, had a fumble recovery and half a sack.
"I think Brandon Williams is probably as good a nose tackle as there is in the league right now," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said during a season-ending news conference.
Williams, strong and mobile, appeared in a YouTube video during college in which he walked on his hands. He bench pressed 225 pounds 38 times during the NFL scouting combine in 2013, the year the Ravens drafted him in the third round on the recommendation of area scout Jack Glowik and a strong performance at the Senior Bowl.
Williams didn't make the Pro Bowl last season, but did establish a reputation for being a severely difficult blocking assignment inside.
"It feels great, definitely, that they think that of me, and I will continue to show that," Williams said. "I feel like I can do a lot better. I'm not going to accept mediocrity, even though I did have a good season last year. I can do better, and I know I will do better next year. ...
"A couple of sacks got away from me. That's just finishing. I've got to work on that. It's not about new moves. It's just concentrating on being consistent and finishing what you start."
Williams is establishing himself in the Ravens' long tradition of effective nose tackles. Twelve years ago, Ravens nose tackle Kelly Gregg won the Extra Effort award.
"It's an honor and a blessing to win this award," Williams said. "Knowing those guys had it before me and won it, that means a lot. Those are players you want to be like when you get older in your career. When you get to that point where you are that guy, that's what I'm striving for and what I want to be."
Williams has studied a lot of film of Gregg, one of the toughest and most popular players in franchise history. Now an Oklahoma City radio personality, Gregg has met Williams and has been observing his progress.
"Big, strong kid," Gregg told The Baltimore Sun last season. "Definitely looks good. The main point is to keep the blockers off the linebackers and eat up space, and he does that. You can't let guys get to the second level. You've got to stay square, and he's got the frame to do it."
Last season, the Ravens allowed just 88.3 rushing yards per game and were stout inside. They had 49 sacks, ranking second in the NFL, as Williams collapsed the pocket inside and outside linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs combined for 29 sacks. The Ravens were second in the NFL in red-zone defense.
One of the top measures of a nose tackle's effectiveness is how the inside linebackers perform behind him. Together, Mosley and Smith finished with 256 tackles, four sacks, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
"That's kind of what I hang my hat on, that and stopping the run," Williams said. "I'm taking on two guys. I have linebackers behind me, two great guys that I can trust to make those plays. I keep the pressure off of them, so they can do what they do best."
The Ravens will likely need even more production out of Williams this season, following the departure of five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata via a trade to the Detroit Lions.
Williams acknowledged that it will be a challenge for the entire defensive line to replace Ngata.
"Haloti is definitely a big staple in the Baltimore area, the Ravens and the defensive line," said Williams, who's been working out with Ngata at a Columbia gym this offseason. "Losing him, he's a great guy. You can't replace a Haloti Ngata. He's a beast and a freak athlete, but it's a business. Yes, he's gone, but he's in Detroit doing what he loves to do. He's playing football. Best wishes to him in Detroit.
"We don't have Haloti, but we know what we need to do. We can step up. We have the guys to do it. If something goes wrong, someone pops a chin strap, the next guy goes in and can do a great job and sustain the defense. There's no big gap or change. The possibilities are endless for our defensive line. We're versatile. We can still be great."
Timmy Jernigan is the frontrunner to replace Ngata at defensive tackle. Jernigan had 23 tackles and four sacks as a rookie and started in place of Ngata when he was suspended four games for violating the NFL performance-enhancing drug policy for unauthorized use of Adderall.
"Timmy, that dude's a beast," Williams said. "He never stops. He's a pit bull. He's so quick off the line. He's got great hands. He's a real physical guy."
Williams became accustomed to the grind of working hard in college; his summer job was hauling and cleaning portable toilets. For a workout, he would lift the toilets onto the flatbed of his pickup truck.
Williams was raised by a single mother, Shelly Washington. She worked two jobs to support him and his brother. The family was homeless for six months during his freshman year of high school.
A partial academic qualifier out of high school, Williams went to prep school in Cincinnati before becoming a three-time All-American in college and the Division II National Defensive Player of the Year.
Williams' mother and girlfriend attended the banquet with him.
"It means a lot to me," said Williams, who's entering the third year of a four-year $2.675 million rookie contract that included a $515,000 signing bonus. "I have that family support. It's not just my award. It's hers, too.
"I wouldn't be the man I am today if not for my mom. She's my support system. She's my rock. So's my girlfriend. Having them here means the world to me."