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OWINGS MILLS â€” When Trevor Pryce arrived in Baltimore last spring, he was accompanied by more than his luggage.
There were questions about his health following back surgery two years ago to repair a herniated disc. There were loud whispers about his declining productivity as the four-time Pro Bowl defensive end was coming off a four-sack campaign.
And the wisdom of giving a $25 million contract that includes $10 million in guaranteed money was repeatedly questioned.
Now, there are no more unanswered issues about the Baltimore Ravensâ€™ defensive end, only praise and platitudes following a banner season where he registered 13 sacks to lead the team.
It was Pryceâ€™s most prolific year rushing the passer since 1999, when he also posted 13 sacks and his first double-digit sack season since having 12 the following year.
"I was telling Brian Billick that this is the most fun Iâ€™ve had playing football in a long time," Pryce said. "When youâ€™re winning, that cures a lot of things, but thereâ€™s also more to being a professional athlete than winning. We all get paid a lot of money, and we are all in the spotlight, but thereâ€™s more than that, too.
"Itâ€™s how do you interact with your teammates, how do you and the coaches get along. What is the most important thing? I think Iâ€™ve figured that out this season."
At 6-foot-5 and 286 pounds, Pryce represents a blend of size, speed, strength, technique and determination.
Typically, he either bulls past an overwhelmed offensive tackle or uses a combination of pass-rushing moves to penetrate gaps and burst into the backfield.
"Itâ€™s what we anticipated," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We have said since Day 1 that he brings us an inside pass rush that weâ€™ve never had. He is much better against the run than I had anticipated. He is as advertised and was a great pick-up for us."
Heading into Saturdayâ€™s AFC divisional playoff against the Indianapolis Colts, Pryce has recorded nearly 75 tackles and forced two fumbles.
Plus, his towering presence has allowed the NFLâ€™s top-ranked defense to nearly become the first team to ever have four players post 10 sacks or more.
"I would say besides Jason Taylor and Julius Peppers, thereâ€™s not a defensive lineman in the league right now who is playing better than Trevor Pryce," Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "He has definitely done some things that have helped us win a lot of games. Heâ€™s been a good guy about it, and I tip my hat to Trevor."
Pryceâ€™s fun-loving personality and the credibility of being a 10-year veteran with two Super Bowl rings earned with the Denver Broncos have made an impact as well.
In the locker room, Pryce is prone to starting impromptu dodge ball games or kicking a soccer ball around the teamâ€™s training complex like an overgrown Pele.
Teammates know he doesnâ€™t take himself too seriously, and are comfortable enough with him to joke about his wardrobe.
"Trevor is the worst-dressed dude on the team," Suggs quipped. "He wears too many smedium shirts. You canâ€™t be 6-foot-9, 300 pounds and be wearing Samari Rolleâ€™s T-shirts."
Jokes aside, and Pryce is bound to have a comeback to Suggsâ€™ crack about his sartorial choices, the big defensive lineman has answered a lot of questions about his game.
Heâ€™s also overjoyed to be back in the playoffs after choosing the Ravens over the last-place Cleveland Browns during free agency.
When the Ravens signed Pryce, defensive coordinator Rex Ryan promptly reminded him that the team was counting on him to provide an inside pass rush.
It has been a stark contrast to how Pryce was utilized in Denver last season where he was asked to occupy blockers on third downs, clog up the middle at nose guard or even drop back into pass coverage as an extra linebacker.
"I sure hope I contribute," Pryce said. "They brought me in to do that, and I think a lot of teams around the league know what I can do.
"Everybody has a strength that they have. One thing this team was missing, is what I know how to do. It just makes sense. Itâ€™s not rocket science."
NOTE: Safety Ed Reed and linebacker Adalius Thomas were named to the Associated Pressâ€™ All-Pro team.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland