As he walked off the practice field earlier this week, Ravens safety Will Demps looked as though he couldn't be in a better mood. Then Doug Plank's name came up and Demps, already delighted over a solid day's work, went a step further, essentially producing a wink and a smile.
It was Plank's success with the disruptive Chicago Bears' defense of the early-to-mid 1980s that paved the way for a transformation of sorts for Demps. As the Ravens and defensive coordinator Rex Ryan continue to work on their 46 defense - a scheme named in honor of Plank's number and made infamous by those Bears teams - Demps is showing through the first week of practice that he may indeed be able to replicate the havoc caused by Plank, the first to play in Demps' new role.
His excitement at having the chance to do what Plank did was palpable.
"I heard about him," said Demps, who had 86 tackles and an interception while starting every game last year.
"I watched a little bit of the tape. He wasn't the biggest or fastest but he was out there hitting people. He was smart, fast and played the defense. The game is 90 percent mental, 10 percent physical. You can see that in the 46. Everybody was just flying around."
If Ryan is to duplicate the success of his father, Buddy, and his Bears defenses of 20 years ago, Demps, like Plank in its inception, will be key. The good news for Ryan: The two have similarities.
Demps, too, is neither the biggest nor the fastest defensive player, but perseverance and smarts have kept him a starter. For the better part of three seasons, Demps was asked to play it safe. His responsibilities: don't let players get behind the defense and do not gamble.
Things have changed through four weeks of offseason camps and the first three days of training camp. Asked to create more game-changing plays rather than just prevent offenses from having them, Demps has dropped down in the box next to Ray Lewis before the snap in passing situations, rushing the quarterback more than half the time in Tuesday's practice.
The extra rusher has led to a number of free runs at Ravens quarterbacks for Demps, forcing incompletions and interceptions. Because six defensive players are on the line of scrimmage, Demps is often not accounted for.
Safety Ed Reed has been making interceptions, in part, because of the pressure.
"I couldn't ask for another person to be right there, and I'm sure he'd say the same thing," Reed said of Demps. "He makes it easier for me, and I make it easier for him."
On running downs, with Demps and Lewis as the de facto linebackers, expect Lewis to draw the attention.
That will leave favorable matchups for Demps.
"I expect great things out of Will," Rex Ryan said. "Everybody knows he is a heck of a football player. We're going to ask him to really step up his game and mentally be a leader. To help other guys and really take on that responsibility, run with it and make a lot of plays for us in the running game as well as the passing game.
"It's kind of a hybrid linebacker, corner at times and safety, so you got to have a lot of qualities to play that position."
The main difference as Demps sees it?
"Normally I sit back and play defense, but now I can attack," he said.
Demps thinks the change will put him in line for a banner season. He sees Pro Bowl players in cornerbacks Samari Rolle, Chris McAlister, Deion Sanders and Dale Carter, along with fellow safety Reed, and wants to be in that group, as well.
That would appear to be a long shot, but Demps said that is how he likes it. He said no one thought he would make the team as a walk-on at San Diego State, and he went on to become an all-conference player.
He said no one thought he would make the Ravens as a rookie free agent and he ended up starting. Now he has one last personal goal.
"Why can I not make the Pro Bowl? Why can I not be the guy that the other guys around me are? I just need to play at that level," Demps said. "I feel like I can play at the level of Chris, Ed and Samari. They've all been there.
"I did it all, so why can I not have a great year, have six or eight picks and have all the secondary go [to the Pro Bowl]? It's not just making the Pro Bowl, but taking my game to another level and just having fun."
The scheme may give Demps a chance to do just that.