For the first 2 1/2 weeks of training camp, Ravens defensive tackle Kelly Gregg stood on the sideline with his right knee wrapped because it was bruised. He was miserable, and everybody knew it. But he has practiced with the team the past two days, and nobody enjoys training camp more than Gregg.
It sounds strange, an eight-year veteran wanting to participate in training camp. But Gregg likes the grunting, the fighting and the rolling around in the heat.
"I would rather come out and limp around than go through rehab," he said. "In this game, nothing is guaranteed, so you practice and play as hard as you can as long as you can."
That's what makes Gregg a fan favorite. He is so blue collar, which is so Baltimore. He fits the underdog mold we admire so much, the long shot who becomes the overachiever. In fact, Gregg almost made his first Pro Bowl appearance last season when there were doubts early in his career about him making an NFL roster.
Gregg is far from being the prototypical NFL defensive tackle. He stands only 6 feet in a position where most players are 6-foot-3 or taller. He has short legs and short arms. He wears his uniform pants practically up to his chinstrap. But when the whistle blows, he is one nasty player and one of the best run stoppers in the game.
Last season, Gregg was fourth on the team in tackles with 101, according to Ravens statistics. He had 102 in 2005 and 89 in 2004. He has tremendous upper-body strength and leverages his body so that he is seldom out of position. But the key is his attitude. He never stops. He could wear down the Energizer Bunny.
Nobody knows that better than Ravens center Mike Flynn. Since Gregg joined the team in 2000, they have butted heads almost every day for six months each year.
Flynn remembers his first impression of Gregg, a Midwest country boy whose normal wardrobe is jeans or shorts and a T-shirt.
"When you look at him, you see he is a character," Flynn said. "He wears his pants to the middle of his chest, always has his shirt off and he is built like a bulldog. You wonder, who is this guy? Then you play against him, then you see this guy is real.
"He has great technique. He's not the tallest guy with great size, but he has great hands, holds the point [of attack] well and knows how to play the double team well. He's a great player, but first of all, he has a motor and always goes hard. Late in the season, that gets to be a pain."
Gregg's strong work ethic came from his parents. His father, Terry, was a policeman, and his mother, Patrice, a postal worker in his hometown of Edmond, Okla. He can flash a wide, boyish smile, but isn't as flashy when it comes to spending money.
After nearly a year of harassment by teammates, he gave his 2002 Pontiac Grand Prix to his mother a few months ago and purchased a used Ford diesel pickup truck. "Buying a new vehicle is not a good investment," Gregg said, laughing.
Gregg had early success as a wrestler in high school, where he was at one time the top heavyweight in the country. He uses a lot of those techniques in football, especially with his hands. Few offensive linemen can plow under him.
"Leverage is so important along with hand placement," Gregg said. "When you play in the trenches, just like a wrestling match, the low man is going to win all the time."
The past couple of seasons, Gregg has moved into elite territory. He has the most tackles of any interior lineman in the NFL since 2002. But things got off to a rough start during the second day of training camp this year when Gregg got tangled up with another player, bruising his knee and thigh.
Until Wednesday, he stayed on the sideline.
"I had some swelling in there from my thigh lingering down to my knee," Gregg said. "I just got tangled the wrong way. Fortunately, it was early in the preseason, and you have time to get ready for the regular season. You don't want to have it nagging you in the regular season.
"I think I'm 100 percent, but I have to be smart and listen to the doctors and trainers."
Gregg, who was signed to a four-year contract extension in April, has tried to be involved in practices as much as possible, but defensive coordinator Rex Ryan has kept an eye on him. With Kelly and fellow tackle Haloti Ngata in the middle, few teams run inside on the Ravens. Last season, the Ravens had the No. 1 overall defense in the league, and No. 2 against the run.
"He's been out there trying to perform in plays, but if he stayed out another two weeks, it would be OK with us," Ryan said. "He thrives on playing this game, and that's why he has been able to overcome things. He is a tremendous player, a tremendous person, and we're lucky to have him."
ESPN is expected to interview Gregg next week. Gregg is on the verge of being at the top of his game. His numbers and play warranted a Pro Bowl appearance last season, and another strong showing in 2007 should get him enough votes.
But Gregg isn't worried about the Pro Bowl. He wants to play in the Super Bowl.
"I wasn't even thinking about the Pro Bowl last season and am not thinking about it this year," Gregg said. "I just wished we would have beaten the [Indianapolis] Colts [in the playoffs]. Winning cures everything. I expect us to pick up where we left off last season. My personal goal every year is to be productive and make a lot of tackles.
"As far as [the] ESPN [interview], I guess it's better to be underrated than overrated. I think they [ESPN] need some filler or something."