Kelly Gregg used to be one of the most low-profile Ravens, a player who could walk around the team's complex without drawing much attention from media, teammates or coaches.
These days, the nose tackle can't seem to leave the Ravens' cafeteria in peace.
"Kelly, make sure you're eating three cheeseburgers," a coach says to him.
Gregg responds with a smile, but there was a time when his size - or lack thereof - was not a laughing matter. In April, linebacker Ray Lewis criticized the Ravens' personnel on national television, saying their small defensive tackles don't allow him to be a dominant player.
Lewis didn't call out Gregg by name, but everyone at the Ravens' headquarters knew where the finger was being pointed.
"It didn't hurt me at all, not one bit," said Gregg, who is listed as 6 feet and 310 pounds. "You can talk about whatever was said in the offseason, but the thing that hurt me the worst is losing and not getting to the playoffs."
A one-time practice squad player, Gregg broke into the starting lineup in 2002, when big-bodied defensive tackles Tony Siragusa (retired) and Sam Adams (released) departed.
Using great strength and leverage, Gregg plays bigger than his frame, developing into one of the team's most consistent defensive players. In fact, he has as many 100-tackle seasons (two) as Lewis since 2003.
But Lewis wants his players up front to shield him from blockers rather than accumulate tackles. That's why Lewis sounded off on the Ravens' defensive front a week before they drafted 340-pound Haloti Ngata, saying, "The thing that frustrates a person like myself is when you don't give me the proper tools to be dominant."
Gregg doesn't plan to approach Lewis about his comments, saying he understands the circumstances surrounding the remarks.
"It's great to make buddies and friends, but we want to win," Gregg said. "Everything stinks when you're losing. Everyone is mad at each other, and the food is not as good. But when you're winning, everything is great. I'd go out there and eat a boot and it would taste good."
Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan seemed more upset by Lewis' criticism than Gregg.
"The unfortunate part is how it makes Kelly look," Ryan said last month. "It seems like I'm always defending the guy. He's a damn good football player."
Before joining the Ravens' coaching staff last season, Clarence Brooks oversaw the Miami Dolphins' defensive line, which started prototypical, bigger tackles such as Tim Bowens and Larry Chester.
It didn't take Brooks long to look past Gregg's lack of size and appreciate his skill as a technician.
"Until you really study him and are around him every day, you don't realize what he can do," Brooks said. "He's the best leverage player I've been around. He's the best player I've ever been around as far as always being on balance and staying on his feet."
In defense of his play, Gregg pointed out that Lewis was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2003, when Gregg was the biggest defensive lineman. The other starters that season (Tony Weaver and Marques Douglas) both weighed less than 300 pounds.
"Sure, it would be nice to have those big guys, but change always happens," Gregg said. "We're going to go out there and compete. All we care about is winning. Nobody's feelings are going to get hurt."
Notes -- Greg Lessans (Pikesville), Katie McGonigle (Western Tech) and Kyle Patton (Mount St. Joseph) were chosen as winners of the Ravens' inaugural "A Day With The Pros" sports journalism writing contest. ... The Maryland High School Football Coaches Association will hold its National Athletic Testing System Combine on Sunday at the Ravens' Owings Mills training complex. Players from graduating classes 2007 to 2010 may register online at www.nats.us.