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Preston: Late Ravens guard Jeff Blackshear mauled his way through the NFL with quiet tenacity

When guard Jeff Blackshear died Saturday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, the Ravens lost one of the toughest players ever to wear their uniform.

Few fans will remember Blackshear, 50, because he was only a starter at right guard from 1996 through 1999, a time after the Ravens first moved from Cleveland and were struggling to win games. But he was a dominant run blocker and the strongest player on the team during his time here.

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Blackshear was 6 feet 6, 335 pounds and was known by his teammates and close friends as “Big Black.” His voice was as deep as that of late soul singer Barry White, but when he laughed, he sounded like a little kid with a high-pitch voice.

He’ll be missed.

When the Ravens first moved to Baltimore, reporters were allowed to hang in the locker room and mingle with players. It was a different era, but it was fun cracking jokes and trading barbs with offensive linemen Wally Williams, Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Brown, as well as defensive linemen Tony Siragusa, Rob Burnett, Sam Adams and Michael McCrary and safety Bennie Thompson.

Notice I didn’t say Blackshear.

Big Black was the quiet storm.

He’d just sit there outside his locker and chuckle, especially when confrontations got heated. Back then, those arguments were not a big deal, just another day in the locker room.

But every now and then, Blackshear would call me over and whisper in my ear.

“You and your boy over there [former Sun reporter Gary Lambrecht] are always stirring things up, always starting trouble,” he would say. “Every day you guys get players mad. They can’t wait for you guys to get in here and I’ll just say he shot another one.”

“But keep shooting,” Blackshear once said. “I love you guys. Hey, go get Goose’s [Siragusa’s] big ass tomorrow.”

Blackshear never wanted to be in the limelight. He just wanted to play ball and mug opposing players. The Ravens offensive line didn’t get much credit back in the early days because the defense was so poor, but that group was extremely physical.

On the right side were Blackshear and the 6-7, 360-pound Brown. At left tackle was either the 6-5, 291-pound Pro Bowl selection Tony Jones or the 6-9, 345-pound Hall of Famer Ogden.

The two quietest of the group were Williams, a guard and center, and Blackshear. But Blackshear was also the most imposing. Even his muscles had muscles. His neck was thicker than most Redwood trees.

Big Black didn’t participate in many offseason workouts, which irritated the Ravens coaching staff, especially then-strength coach Jerry Simmons. He would accuse Blackshear of being out of shape during his rare offseason visits.

Blackshear, though, didn’t mind challenging Simmons. While in street clothes, he’d take Simmons to the weight room and bench more than 500 pounds without a spotter.

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He’d sit the weights down and then leave for another month or two.

That was vintage Blackshear.

Once, while the Ravens were playing the Tennessee Titans on the road, I saw Blackshear play five straight plays in the fourth quarter while limping. After the game, he was still walking slowly, so I asked him if was he injured. He replied no.

I later asked Brown, who told me Blackshear had been kicked “between his legs” but kept playing because he didn’t want to come out.

Jeff Blackshear was one tough guy.

One year, while the players were arriving for training camp, Lambrecht and I asked each other, if we were stuck in a dark alley, who would be the most intimidating, butt-kicking Ravens we would want behind us? We agreed: Blackshear, Brown and the 6-foot-5, 300 pound Larry Webster, a defensive tackle.

During his time in Baltimore, Blackshear started 60 of 64 games and didn’t miss a practice for three years. In 1999, Brian Billick replaced Ted Marchibroda as coach and Billick wanted more mobile, athletic guards.

Blackshear knew his time was limited.

“The Ravens knew who I was before I got here,” said Blackshear, who played nine years in the NFL. “I am not going to apologize for who I am. I am a run blocker, I just run over people.”

Yes, he did.

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