Ivan Caesar, a rookie rush end with the CFL Colts, is as quick on the pass rush as he is with a quip.
He can be as effective delivering a good-natured needle to a friend as he can delivering a hit to a quarterback.
Just ask Tim Smith, the one-time Super Bowl hero trying to wage a comeback with the Colts.
One morning last week, when Smith returned to practice after missing several workouts, Caesar moved in with the needle.
"Look who's back, Timmy Smith," Caesar said during stretching exercises. "Thought you'd be at the grill flipping burgers for us this afternoon."
Smith grinned, but got the message. You can't make Baltimore's new Canadian Football League team from the infirmary.
"That's my nature," said Caesar, who missed his first workout yesterday morning with a strained lower back. "We're both a little older. I know Timmy can take a grilling. Everybody got a laugh out of it. If you've got to be out there, you might as well make it fun. You tend not to grill the young guys."
Caesar may be a rookie, but he's been around. A native of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, he is 27 years old and has spent parts of two seasons in the NFL -- one full season with the Minnesota Vikings in 1991 and two games with the Philadelphia Eagles a year ago.
That's not all that sets him apart, either. For all of his playful pranks and continuous chatter, there's a serious side to Caesar.
In the off-season the past two years, he has worked as a program director at a health clinic in Boston for underprivileged men.
Money to run the program comes from a state tax on tobacco products and from a grant for which he wrote the proposal.
"It's for men of color," said Caesar. "We're dying at a much faster rate than white males. What I do is preventive education."
Caesar said that in the first year his program opened, he reached some 300 men at the Whittier Street Neighborhood Health Center in Roxbury.
"The second year we were up to 500, 600," he said. "This year, we're on a pace to break that and go over 800. I'm proud of it. A lot of people have helped, it's not just me. We're making progress, and I'm having fun."
The health center will have to do without Caesar for a while. He is busy carving his own niche at Towson State, where the Colts are 12 days into training camp.
Caesar is big (6 feet 2, 240 pounds), quick and instinctive. He was always around the ball in Saturday's no-tackle scrimmage.
"He really showed up off the edge," said coach Don Matthews. "He's fast. He's the style athlete we're looking for."
His specialty is rushing the quarterback, which meshes perfectly with his new position. With the Vikings and Eagles, he played outside linebacker. But in an attempt to get more speed on defense, Matthews has turned linebackers into rush ends.
Caesar, a three-year starter at Boston College, was not only willing to change positions, but also change leagues. He said he turned down an offer to return to the Eagles for the opportunity to start in the CFL.
"This was a chance to play, basically," he said. "I was negotiating to go back to Philly. They had a contract on the table. Then this came up. Everything was wide open, I could compete for a job. That was real important to me."
In Philadelphia, the starting linebacker jobs are closed. The Eagles have holdovers Byron Evans and William Thomas, and signed free agent Bill Romanowski in the off-season.
Here, Caesar is adjusting well to the nuances of the Canadian game. He's even learning some new tricks, courtesy of guest coach Rich Ellerson, defensive line coach at Arizona.
"He's teaching us karate moves," Caesar said. "There are a lot of things we do to try to keep an offensive lineman's hands off us. I'm trying to get this to be second nature. I find myself practicing it [karate] in the elevator. And I'm hitting water in the shower.
"It's all fun to me. There's no better job in the world."
SEATS AND SINGING
The CFL Colts will hold Tag Day at Memorial Stadium on Saturday from noon until 3 p.m. Approximately 4,000 seats will be tagged and available for purchase. Fans should report to Gate W-1.
Also, from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, the team will hold auditions for national anthem singers and public address announcers. For information, call E. J. Narcisse at (410) 554-1010.