OWINGS MILLS — Bobbie Williams’ beefy left forearm is decorated with an authoritative message that contains about as much subtlety as when the heavyweight blocker delivers a powerful blow to a defensive lineman’s head and shoulders.
His trademark tattoo reads, "Boss Man," a nickname the Baltimore Ravens’ projected new starting left offensive guard earned as an unusually precocious, rough-necked freshman at Arkansas.
"That’s back when I was a young whippersnapper," Williams said. "It was kind of like freshman year kind of messing with some of the older guys, roughing them up. So, they were just like, ‘You’re kind of the boss.’ And it stuck with me."
During the past eight years with the Cincinnati Bengals before signing a two-year, $2.925 million contract with the Ravens that includes an $800,000 signing bonus, Williams built a reputation for his ferocity in trench warfare.
The 6-foot-4, 345-pounder literally became a painful presence for the Ravens’ vaunted defense, butting heads with middle linebacker Ray Lewis and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
Grappling with the burly 35-year-old lineman isn’t an enjoyable experience because it involves an unusually quick veteran lineman using his body as a battering ram.
Although Ngata still has to practice against Williams, he won’t miss squaring off with him twice per year in the AFC North division.
"Man, I’m not going to have that much of a headache anymore playing Cincinnati," Ngata said. "Me and Bobbie, we used to go at it all the time and we have so much respect for each other. I have a lot of respect for him. I’m happy we have him here, and I think we’re going to have a lot of good things out of him.”
Judging from Williams’ imposing build and past history of shoving around defenders, those encounters with Ngata should provide a preview of what’s to come this fall when he locks up with Pittsburgh Steelers nose guard Casey Hampton and Bengals defensive tackles Geno Atkins and Domata Peko.
For Williams, blocking Ngata is a way to prepare for the Ravens’ season-opener against the Bengals in a Monday night game at M&T Bank Stadium.
"It’s a Proverb saying, ‘Iron sharpens iron," Williams said. "So, one man sharpens another. I just look at it like that. So, we plan to be pretty sharp come Monday night.
"I told Ray that all these years I was just trying to give him some love by hugging him, just trying to show him some love. It was kind of like, ‘Well, you know what? We’re glad that you are on our side now.’"
Despite playing on some solid teams coached by Marvin Lewis, Williams endured his share of losing.
The Bengals only made the playoffs twice during his tenure, including last season.
"It’s a good feeling being here with a franchise, a team that’s known for being physical and known for being winner," Williams said. "My first thought of signing here was, ‘Great opportunity to go for the big dance, a great opportunity to go to the Super Bowl and win."
Williams started nine games last season for the Bengals following a four-game suspension for violating the NFL performance-enhancing drug policy.
The former Arkansas lineman fractured his right ankle against the Houston Texans in December and was placed on injured reserve.
Other than the suspension and ankle injury, Williams hadn’t missed a single game since joining the Bengals after beginning his career in 2000 as a second-round draft pick with the Philadelphia Eagles.
"Yes, I would say it was definitely my toughest year mentally, and from that it kind of put me and molded me into the gentleman that I am now, very sharper, very more focused now than anything," Williams said. "And I am actually thankful for that. It was a dark time, but from that dark comes light and comes growth. So, I definitely grew from there, and I’m steadily growing."
Williams spent the majority of this offseason working out at the Bengals’ weight room at Paul Brown Stadium.
He didn’t think he would return, though, after undergoing ankle surgery.
The Ravens along with several other teams had their eye on Williams since he officially became an unrestricted free agent in March, biding their time until he got healthy.
“I’m not going to necessarily say it was tough, because before signing here, I was emotionally detached," Williams said. "It was just home there, but it was a good run, but I plan on having a better run here. I really want to try to do some awesome things and do as much as I can and give as much as I can to the organization.”
Williams has started 130 career games, lining up for the majority of his career at right offensive guard.
Since the Ravens are set on the right side with Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda, Williams is making adjustments to the left side.
Altering his footwork isn’t as much of a switch as getting accustomed to the Ravens’ zone-blocking system, which differs from the Bengals’ power-oriented inside zone scheme.
The Ravens tend to run outside more with Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice and hit the edges whereas the Bengals ran inside quite a bit with power back Cedric Benson.
"This scheme right here is awesome," Williams said. "It’s good for me, a big guy that can move, that has a little strength. So, you get that defense stretched and can use your upper body to torque them a little bit more, and that’s just more lanes for the running back."
The Ravens won’t simply hand the starting job to Williams, but it will be a surprise if he’s unable to beat out rookie second-round pick Kelechi Osemele and former third-round pick Jah Reid.
"He jumped right in there and looked going doing it," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He is a veteran player, very physical guy. He has a great demeanor, great personality, so it’s good to have him in there.”
Williams is a classic AFC North offensive lineman, bred for the roll-up-your-sleeves, black-and-blue nature of the division.
"I’m a physical guy, and that’s what I like," Williams said. "Defenses don’t tend to like a physical offensive lineman, so it’s a perfect fit here."
As good as the Bengals’ front seven has become, particularly Atkins and Peko, Williams said he’ll be surprised if they embrace having to face him in the first game of the season.
"I think I might be a little bit more excited than them because they are used to seeing me in practice, and they know that it’s a good challenge for them," Williams said. "They know I like to lean on them, so I don’t know how excited they are for that."