With nine years of pro football behind him, Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa has faced his share of tough centers, but none brings the package that Pittsburgh's Dermontti Dawson does.
"He's got to be at the top of the list. He's probably the most agile offensive lineman in the NFL, because of the way he can move," Siragusa said of Dawson. "He can take you on one-on-one, and he's as athletic as a linebacker."
Dawson, in his 12th season, most likely is headed for the Hall of Fame. He has been one of the more indispensable players of the Bill Cowher era.
Watch Dawson, at 6 feet 2, 292 pounds, fire off the line of scrimmage. Few centers can lay the pads on a nose guard as quickly. Then again, few centers can pull, get out in the open field and take on a linebacker as effectively. Dawson can be seen blocking three guys on one play.
The Steelers have long had a deep belief that they can run the ball on anyone. Having a tank like 250-pound Jerome Bettis in the backfield is a nice trump card, but the running game starts up front, where the Steelers trap and counter and scrape and punish tacklers with the best of them.
And up front starts with Dawson, who will have his share of up-close meetings with Siragusa and Larry Webster, the Ravens' other tackle.
"Easily, [Dawson] is the best center in football. No question," Ravens defensive line coach Rex Ryan said. "He is everything you look for in a center. He's a quality player who can go one-on-one against any defensive guy in the league. He can go outside, and most teams don't have that luxury. We'll have our hands full against him."
Keeping Dawson off middle linebacker Ray Lewis, thus allowing Lewis to patrol the line of scrimmage from sideline to sideline, will be a major goal of the Ravens today. As Siragusa said, that all starts up front.
"Dawson has no problem snapping the ball when a guy is lined up on his nose. He has that much confidence in his quickness and his ability," Siragusa said.
"He has no problem blocking a guy straight back or pulling and hitting somebody else. You can't let him climb up the ladder and get to Ray Lewis, because [Dawson] can cut your defense in half that way."