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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Trevor Pryce arrived in Baltimore this spring, accompanied by a few pieces of baggage beyond his leather suitcase. The former All-Pro defensive end was indignant during his introductory press conference at suggestions he was past his prime, offering several gripes and allegations about being misused and underutilized in the Denver Broncosâ€™ defensive schemes.
Now, Pryce has issued a convincing rebuttal to Broncos coach and football czar Mike Shanahan, who deemed Pryce too expensive and too old to retain and jettisoned him as a salary-cap casualty last winter. Especially in the past month, Pryce has emerged as a vital cog in the Baltimore Ravensâ€™ aggressive, second-ranked defense.
Heading into Sundayâ€™s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium, Pryce has a total four sacks over the past four games. That ties him for the second-most in the NFL during that span, including his two sacks of Michael Vick in last Sundayâ€™s 24-10 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
With Pryce bursting through the line of scrimmage twice last week, it also created pass-rushing lanes for teammates to sack Vick an additional three times. No pass rusher in the league has decked quarterbacks for more lost yardage (43) than Pryce during the past four games.
â€œHuge, I keep saying it, the presence inside,â€ Ravens coach Brian Billick said regarding Pryceâ€™s impact. â€œYou saw the pressure, and now people are having to account for him in ways that are going to open up opportunities for the other guys on the outside.â€
The Ravens rank fourth in the NFL with 30 sacks and are on pace for 46 this season, which would top last seasonâ€™s mark of 42. Pryce ranks second on the Ravens with 6 Â½ sacks behind outside linebacker Adalius Thomas, who has already notched eight.
â€œYou have to account for him,â€ Thomas said of Pryce. â€œHeâ€™s a tall, lanky guy who can run and get off the pass and also play the run. He just brought some leadership to the team.â€
Pryce is a difficult blocking assignment partly because of his physical gifts and an extensive repertoire of pass-rushing moves, including the bull-rush, club, rip, swim and spin moves.
At 6-foot-5, 286 pounds, Pryce represents a blend of size, speed and athleticism. The four-time Pro Bowl selection also carries significant locker room credibility as an honest, experienced voice who owns two Super Bowl rings and 70 Â½ career sacks midway through his 10th NFL season.
â€œHave you seen how good heâ€™s playing? asked defensive end Terrell Suggs rhetorically. â€œTrevorâ€™s playing outstanding. Heâ€™s playing defensive tackle. Heâ€™s playing defensive end. He even played some linebacker in the New Orleans game.
â€œHe doesnâ€™t complain about anything. He just lines up and does it. [General manager] Ozzie Newsome did a great job of getting him in here.â€
Pryce signed a five-year, $25 million contract in March that included $10 million in guaranteed money. The lucrative contract opened legitimate questions about Pryceâ€™s surgically-repaired back, his age at 31, whether he consistently played hard or had lost explosiveness as a run-stopper and pass-rusher.
However, that lofty investment has paid significant dividends over the last two weeks.
Pryce blocked a 42-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds to preserve a 27-26 win over the Tennessee Titans, and he consistently busted through the Falconsâ€™ feeble blocking to chase down the elusive Vick last week.
â€œIâ€™m as comfortable as I have been, and itâ€™s no different from when I first got here,â€ said Pryce, who has registered 42 tackles for the NFLâ€™s third-ranked run defense after totaling just two tackles during last yearâ€™s postseason for the Broncos. â€œItâ€™s just a chance to make plays. Thereâ€™s a lot of luck involved, at least as far as I know.
â€œThe guys around me have a lot of confidence in what we can all do together. Iâ€™m having a good time.â€
NOTE: Join the GAMETIME crew, Ravens mascot Poe, Ravens cheerleaders and other surprises at Della Rose’s Avenue Tavern in White Marsh prior to the Ravens @ the Bengals on Thursday Nov. 30 at 6:30PM. There will be authentic autographed memorabilia given away and there is a free sign up for a Toyota raffle — the prize being a brand new 2007 Yaris! More details on on the home page calendar.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland