OWINGS MILLS – The enforcer has no fear, using his shoulders and forearms as dangerous weapons to crash into ball carriers.
Hitting is his game, and Bernard Pollard has inflicted a lot of punishment since entering the NFL six years ago.
Three years ago, a devastating shot from the Baltimore Ravens’ intimidating strong safety ended the season of New England Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady due to a serious knee injury.
The incident motivated the NFL to pass a rule abolishing defensive players from lunging or diving at quarterbacks’ lower legs
Earning nicknames such as “The Bonecrusher” and “The Angry Man,” Pollard thrives on contact and is built for fierce collisions at an imposing 6-foot-1, 228 pounds.
Since taking over as the starting safety opposite All-Pro free safety Ed Reed as the replacement for Jacksonville Jaguars safety Dawan Landry, Pollard has injected a physical presence into the Ravens’ third-ranked defense.
“I just love that pit bull,” Ravens Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “Don’t get me wrong, as a friend, I miss Dawan Landry and not to take anything away from Tom Zbikowski or Haruki Nakamura, but Bernard has just had that fire.
“He comes up, and he hits. I have to beg him, for the love of God, don’t ever change the way you play. We’ll live with it. We’ll pitch in for any fines. I love the way Bernard plays.”
The Ravens have Pollard operate as an aggressive force player, blitzing quarterbacks and crushing running backs. He’s been a key to the Ravens ranking second against the run, allowing 88.8 yards on the ground and fifth against the pass with 198.6 yards allowed per game.
Pollard is tied for fourth on the team with 57 tackles, also recording two sacks and deflecting seven passes. And he leads the team with three forced fumbles.
“He’s a tackling machine,” Reed said. “He’s a professional, he’s always prepared. And he reminds me a lot of Dawan. We haven’t lost a step in that sense.”
Let go by the Houston Texans after the defense finished last in pass defense a year ago, Pollard is embracing his new football environment.
“I’m blessed to be here,” Pollard said. “That’s the type of player I’ve been my whole career, and I’m finally in the situation where they accept me. I’m not doing off the field. I don’t go out or do anything crazy. Here on the field, I play for my teammates and I’m going to fight for them, right, wrong or indifferent.
“I’m going to fight for them. That’s what I tell a lot of people. One of the first things I saw when I got here was the love we have for each other in this locker room. It’s ridiculous. You can’t even explain it. We go out there and fight.”
It was Pollard who roughed up archrival Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, shoving him backwards for several yards after a play during the Ravens’ 35-7 rout to launch the season.
Pollard delivered a message that his teammates and fans loved: He wasn’t going to be pushed around.
“I just go hit people,” Pollard said. “People call me the enforcer. I just go play. I’m an old-school player. I look at Ronnie Lott, guys like that. The game has changed, but I keep it old-school football.”
That wasn’t good enough for the Texans, though.
They didn’t retain Pollard despite him registering a career-high 112 tackles and four forced fumbles last season.
His pass coverage skills were repeatedly maligned in Houston.
“I know what type of player I am,” Pollard said. “I do feel like they used me as a scapegoat. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what’s said. Me being here in my situation, I’m blessed. I can cover and I’m going to go out there and hit.
“I don’t care who I’m covering, I can’t let that little speedy guy get over the top. I’m not afraid to put my skills to the test in front of the world. That says a lot about me. That says a lot about every player in the NFL. We take the criticism we take everything that goes with that.”
What’s it like to have a headache-inducing encounter with Pollard?
Well, it’s painful.
Even Ravens All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach, who played with Pollard in Houston for three years, doesn’t like to run into him.
“Bernard is a hard-nosed football player,” Leach said. “It’s a big collision. I try not to have those collisions with him anymore because it’s not good for either one of us. It hurts so bad.”
Pollard, 26, has formed a strong bond with Reed, 33, quizzing him on schemes and strategies.
He stays in constant touch with the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year to absorb as much knowledge as he can about the intricacies of the defense, exchanging text messages, telephone calls and chatting on airplane flights about how to attack offenses.
And the contrasting styles of Pollard, the hit-first type, and Reed, a rangy center fielder, have complemented each other well.
“They’re doing a great job,” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “Bernard, his domain is he loves being down there near the action and in the box and in the run game. The amount of time that he’s getting on defense, he’s becoming more comfortable with the scheme, they’re able to change it up, move it around and try to confuse the quarterback. So, I think him playing deep some and then down in the box and Ed changing things when we bring in three-safety schemes, it’s been really good. And it’s only getting better, too.”
That partnership could continue next season.
Signed to a two-year contract, Pollard is due a $500,000 roster bonus on the 10th day of the league year next March.
“This year, is what we’re talking about,” Pollard said. “I’m not really thinking about the future. We have goals and that’s the Super Bowl.”
Pollard gained a certain amount of fame for his impromptu dancing in the locker room when he played for the Kansas City Chiefs, fancy steps that were captured on the “Hard Knocks” HBO series.
Despite being begged by his new teammates in Baltimore to recapture his old form, Pollard has consistently declined an encore.
“They always ask me, but I’m not dancing,” Pollard said. “I’m not bringing it back until the right song. If we win it all, then I’m dancing. I’ll be on that stage getting down.”