Ravens' defense takes on a new look

OWINGS MILLS -- The arrivals of Trevor Pryce and Justin Bannan have triggered a ripple effect in the Baltimore Ravens' defense. With Bannan now operating at defensive tackle, Kelly Gregg is moving back to his natural nose guard position that was vacated when Maake Kemoeatu signed a $23 million contract with the Carolina Panthers.

Neither Bannan, who became a starter with the Buffalo Bills midway through last season when Sam Adams got into a dispute with the coaching staff, or Gregg are especially big. Both are regarded as relentless in pursuit.

Gregg is listed at 6-foot, 310 pounds, and Bannan is 6-3, 305 pounds. Baltimore negotiated with 6-4, 365-pound veteran Ted Washington, but he signed a two-year, $7 million contract with the Cleveland Browns.

"If Kelly was a free agent, he would have broken the bank because teams see the tape," said defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, noting how Gregg had 104 tackles and three sacks in 2003 in 16 starts at nose guard. "A couple of years ago, he played nose guard and in my opinion was the best in the league. I'm not worried one bit about Kelly Gregg as far as size.

"He's just short. He's a big man. He benches 550 pounds and he'll whip any of those big guys you're talking about. It seems like I'm always defending him, but call Pittsburgh or anybody you want and they'll tell you Kelly is a hell of a football player."

When Bannan was a freshman in college, he watched Gregg play for Oklahoma and tries to emulate his mentality.

"I think he does an incredible job and that's the kind of style I like to play," Bannan said. "Hopefully, I'll line up next to him and just fly around and make plays."

A four-time Pro Bowl defensive end with 64 career sacks in nine seasons, Pryce is the team's most established pass rusher since the heyday of Michael McCrary and Peter Boulware. At 6-foot-6, 290 pounds, he's unusually large for a team that has lacked prototypical size at end.

"Anytime you can bring in a guy that can get to the passer like he does, you're going to be a better defense," director of pro personnel George Kokinis said.

However, Pryce's production has been declining and he hasn't made the Pro Bowl since 2002. After missing the 2004 season with a herniated disc that he has recovered from, Pryce dipped to four sacks last season.

Sometimes, Pryce played nose guard and linebacker in the Broncos' nickel package. Instead of chasing quarterbacks on third downs, which he did in 1999 and 2000 for a total of 25 sacks, Pryce often dropped back into coverage. He was cut to save $8.5 million against the salary cap.

"The role of what the defensive linemen did in Denver changed 180 degrees," Pryce said. "It became, ‘You hold up these guys and let the little guys pass rush.' Well, I'm like, ‘Rushers should rush, droppers should drop.' It was Denver, we just didn't know what we were doing. You couldn't complain too much because we were winning."

Ryan said he plans to use more traditional four-man rushes because of the new personnel. Although Baltimore ranked fifth in defense and had 41 sacks, they blitzed more than he was always comfortable with.

With Pryce anchoring left end, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs will see more action as a rush end on the right side. Suggs posted a career-low 8 ½ sacks and a career-high two interceptions last season.

"It hurt Suggs' sack numbers that he had to play drop linebacker more than we wanted him to," Ryan said. "Suggs, who I wouldn't trade for any outside linebacker in this league, didn't get voted to the Pro Bowl and that probably made me madder than it did him. He's going to play a lot at defensive end and at linebacker as well."

NOTES: Safety Will Demps signed a five-year, $12 million contract with the New York Giants that includes a $3 million signing bonus. … Tight end Darnell Dinkins completed a two-day visit with the Cleveland Browns. The Ravens haven't ruled out re-signing him. "The Ravens made it clear that they have a lot of respect for Darnell," said Andrew Benedict, Dinkins' agent … The Ravens are interested in former Chicago Bears blocking tight end John Gilmore, who's visiting the Oakland Raiders. … Punter Jason Baker is likely to visit Baltimore next week after a weekend visit to the St. Louis Rams, according to his agent. … Baltimore is interested in Giants special-teams ace and receiver David Tyree, a restricted free agent assigned the low tender of $712,000. It would cost Baltimore a sixth-round draft pick if New York decided not to match an offer.

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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