Cody steps in as Ravens' starting nose guard

FootballSportsBaltimore RavensKansas City ChiefsKelly GreggKeydrick VincentJarret Johnson

Longtime run stopper Kelly Gregg is officially gone and Terrence Cody is undeniably the man in the middle, latest in a line of nose guards who play traffic cop for the Ravens.

Built more like the massive Tony Siragusa than the shorter Gregg, Cody had an uneven rookie season: He arrived overweight, quickly suffered a knee injury that required surgery and spent the first month of the regular season trying to work that big body into shape.

Once he got on the field, however, he began to show why he was a steal late in the second round of the 2010 draft. There was a five-tackle game in Atlanta, a four-tackle game against Cincinnati, and, in the playoffs, he delivered his coup de grace.

In the wild-card win at Kansas City, Cody not only caught Jamaal Charles from behind, but also separated the Chiefs running back from the ball — recovered by the Ravens — and knocked Charles out of the game by landing on him. Without the elusive Charles, the Chiefs were left without a chance.

That strong finish no doubt gave the Ravens confidence to cut Gregg, who signed with the Chiefs last week, and promote Cody.

"A lot of people are looking for me to do good and step up because Kelly's gone," Cody, 23, said. "So I've got a lot of people counting on me. Plus, playing on the defense, you've got to be accountable for your play with Ray [Lewis]."

The Ravens want Cody to do better than "good." Gregg delivered 719 tackles over a 10-year career in Baltimore, serving the defense with distinction.

That's the challenge Ravens coach John Harbaugh laid out for Cody two practices into camp. Harbaugh wants Cody to build off his late-season success and be Gregg-like on the defense.

"That's the plan," Harbaugh said. "We need him to. That's why he is in there. He is the starting nose guard, and we expect there to be no drop-off. We have had a tremendous amount of production from Kelly Gregg over the years, and Terrence Cody has to play at least as well as that. That's the plan. That's his responsibility, but I'm sure he can do it."

Cody has already been nominated by general manager Ozzie Newsome as the team's "breakout player" of this season. Newsome and Cody both have Alabama roots.

"I'm capable of dominating," Cody said. "That's what I did at 'Bama. And that's what they want me to do here, just dominate every play I'm in and not take plays off. … They want me to do more than just stop the run. They want me to develop into a pass rusher, too."

After a rough start in the first-day heat, Cody has settled in nicely at practice. At 6 feet 3, he is lighter — down to 345 pounds, he says — and quicker. "I saw myself on film [the other day] and I went, 'Man, who is that guy?'" he said.

It's the difference a year makes. Cody learned his lesson from reporting out of shape a year ago. And he learned to appreciate his body more.

"It's about being disciplined and growing up, being a man and being a pro football player," he said. "You've got to treat your body like [it's a] business."

His maturation as a second-year player is readily apparent to his teammates.

"He looks a little leaner," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "I was watching him in practice, and he looks a year older with the way he's playing his technique and things."

Cody says he's got a better grasp of the job now, although picking up the complexities of the defense was never an issue for him after having played in Nick Saban's defense at Alabama.

"It's different than it was last year, I'll say that," he said of his commitment. "I'm more committed … just buying into everything."

Cody said he split his offseason between Alabama and Orlando, Fla., where he worked with former Ravens offensive lineman Keydrick Vincent and another player at a performance camp for big men. His offseason routine included a lot of running and lifting, some sled-pushing and more than a little basketball.

Cody is surprisingly nimble and athletic for such a big man. He played two years of basketball in high school in Fort Myers, Fla.

Haloti Ngata, the Pro Bowl defensive tackle who will line up beside Cody, likes what he sees.

"He is looking real good," Ngata said. "He definitely lost some weight and kept the weight down. So it is good that he is able to do that and still run to the ball like he has been, and he's doing a lot of good things."

Replacing Gregg, no small feat, is his next challenge. Cody learned by watching and listening to his predecessor, who was always willing to help.

"There were a lot of hints he gave me to read when playing the center," Cody said. "He wasn't the biggest guy, [but] he was a technician. And I want to get some of that tool work in my tool box."

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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