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WESTMINSTER — Dawan Landry regards himself as an enforcer now that he’s no longer a raw, unheralded rookie. It’s a frank opinion that’s unlikely to draw him into many arguments.
And even if the Baltimore Ravens’ imposing safety is occasionally mistaken in league circles for merely being a sidekick to former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Ed Reed, his teammates have begun to recognize him as something much more: an intimidating partner in crime to Reed.
Landry has even acquired a nickname based on his physique, and his hard-hitting approach.
"Puffy is coming along," linebacker Bart Scott said. "You see his arms? That man is broad. I think it’s genetics."
Genetics? Perhaps, but Landry’s emergence from a converted Georgia Tech quarterback drafted in the fifth round into an all-rookie selection is a tad more complex than that.
One year after leading all NFL rookies with five interceptions, the 6-foot, 220-pound Louisiana native credits his success to diligent study, disciplined work habits and a quarterback background that helps him anticipate what the offense is plotting.
Now, he’s no longer confused by the Ravens’ intricate playbook. He’s a full-fledged returning starter on the NFL’s top-ranked defense who’s completely acclimated to the Baltimore defense.
"I know the plays," Landry said Thursday morning at McDaniel College. "Last year, I was learning on the run. This year, I’m more laidback and I can make a lot of calls and communicate with my guys better. Last year, I came in and wanted to compete. The results show that."
Landry registered 89 tackles, the second-highest total for a Ravens rookie since linebacker Ray Lewis in 1996. He also had three sacks last season, scoring a touchdown on an interception against the New Orleans Saints with multiple family members watching in the Louisiana Superdome.
In 14 starts, there weren’t any glaring mental busts or encounters with the dreaded rookie wall. Landry received one vote for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
"He reminds me of myself," said Reed, an All-Pro defensive back heading into his sixth season. "He’s willing and eager to learn. He’s not pushing away teaching. He’s not pushing away your opinion or what he can be helped with to get better on."
A year ago in Westminster, Landry was locked in a competition with veteran Gerome Sapp.
It quickly became apparent, though, that the Ravens’ most sensible course of action was promoting Landry into the starting lineup and letting him school himself while playing alongside Reed and cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle.
One year later, defensive coordinator Rex Ryan has no regrets about his decision.
"I think he’ll be a major contributor to our success just like he was last year," Ryan said. "He’s a true pro. He’s smart. He studies his tail off. He conditions himself. We expect his game is just going to keep going up."
Landry’s chief strengths as a safety are as a roughneck in run support who possesses surprising range for his size and underrated coverage skills that allow him to shadow tight ends, slot receivers and running backs.
Mostly, Landry is building a reputation as a hitter.
"I just like to fly around and make my presence felt any way I can on the field," said Landry, who grew up in Boutte, La., hoping to become the next Donovan McNabb. "Having that quarterback mindset has been a tremendous asset for me."
The NFL noticed, too.
Landry was the top recipient of the league’s Performance Based Pay system, a supplemental fund used to reward players based on a comparison of their playing time to their base salary. He received a $366,017 bonus this offseason after earning a $275,000 base salary last year.
"That was nice," Landry said. "Hard work paid off from playing a lot of snaps on the back end last year."
Landry also deflected 13 passes last season. Not bad for someone who waited patiently while 165 players were drafted ahead of him.
After defying those kinds of odds, the Ravens aren’t placing any ceiling on top of Landry’s potential. When asked where Landry might be able to go this season, Reed replied with a reference to Hawaii, the site of the Pro Bowl.
"Hopefully, across the water," Reed said. "He’s a great safety."
Landry isn’t the only member of his family who can play a little football. His younger brother, LaRon Landry, was drafted fifth overall by the Washington Redskins. The athletic All-American safety from LSU recently ended a holdout and signed a five-year contract worth $41.5 million.
The two brothers, who haven’t played on the same field together since Dawan Landry’s senior year at Hahnville High school, will be reunited Saturday when the Ravens host the Redskins in a scrimmage at M&T Bank Stadium. They live about an hour’s drive apart and plan to hang out during their off-days this season.
"We haven’t really talked about the scrimmage, just about how training camp is going and he said it’s pretty rough," Landry said. "This is just something fun for my parents. I’m looking forward to seeing him."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.