OWINGS MILLS — Dawan Landry zeroed in on his targets, uncoiling his upper body in a striking motion while charging toward wide receivers during passing drills.
Instead of delivering a trademark intimidating tackle, the strong safety pulled up at the last instant Saturday as the Baltimore Ravens continued a full-team, non-contact minicamp that concludes today.
For Landry, the real hitting and the ultimate test of his surgically-repaired neck will come later when he dons shoulder pads and smashes into someone for the first time since incurring a scary spinal cord concussion last season.
At this point, Landry is simply happy to have regained his health and his starting job three months after undergoing surgery to repair the damage suffered during a major collision last September at M&T Bank Stadium against the Cleveland Browns.
Apparently, fear is not a word to be found in Landry’s vocabulary.
“I was never nervous,” Landry said Saturday in the Ravens’ locker room. “I knew once the body felt fine, I would feel fine. It feels good right now. It feels good to be back.”
Landry was sidelined for all but two games last season after being carted off the field following a helmet-first, devastating blow absorbed when he ran into Browns running back Jamal Lewis’ thigh.
After initially wearing a stabilizing neck brace after a nearly catastrophic injury, Landry felt tingling sensations in his neck until February when he had the surgery.
“I know once the tingling went away, that the feeling in the neck would be fine,” Landry said. “I just want to put the pads on and hit.”
Landry did experience jarring into teammates a few times during the minicamps with no negative effects.
“I tussled with a couple of guys,” Landry said.
Although it’s obviously not the same experience as the real controlled violence of a football game, it’s still an encouraging sign.
Once Landry safely takes or delivers the first hit since the injury, it will relieve a little anxiety.
“I’m actually anxious to do t hat,” Landry said. “Whenever we put on the pads, I’m going to go full-go an d see how it feels from there. I’m going to be fine. I’m not scared at all.”
Landry wasn’t squeamish about watching the video of the huge hit that prompted teammates and Browns players to clasp their hands in prayer while doctors attended to him on the field.
“At first, it looked like a regular hit until I saw my neck snap back,” Landry said. “Now, I see how it went numb and it shocked me.”
Yet, it hasn’t stopped Landry from summoning the reckless abandon it takes to play football.
In a game where impacts can rival the force of a car accident, Landry isn’t hesitant to once again use his body as a human battering ra m and operate as an enforcer in the Ravens’ secondary.
“It does take a lot of courage,” fullback Le’Ron McClain said. “It shows the courage and determination this man has to get back out there after an injury like that. I know he’s going to have a great season.”
The Ravens felt comfortable enough with Landry’s medical outlook to not re-sign free agent Jim Leonhard, who emerged as a fan favorite in relief of Landry last season before signing a $6 million contract and joining former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan with the New York Jets.
“That definitely must have had a little to do with them not bringing back Jim,” cornerback Fabian Washington said. “They wouldn’t have done that if they weren’t sure that Dawan was going to pick up where he left off.”
A former fifth-round draft pick from Georgia Tech, Landry has registered 162 career tackles, four sacks and five interceptions in three NFL seasons.
Landry has improved markedly in coverage after initially being typecast as an in-the-box safety who was only projected to thrive in run support.
Now, Landry is regarded as an all-around safety capable of covering receivers and tight ends as well as coming up to halt big running backs’ forward progress.
“Dawan is a beast,” Washington said. “He’s a special guy, He’s a big hitter. He’s an intimidator. He’s also very smart. Everyone is happy he’s back.”
Listed at 6-foot, 220 pounds, Landry is down to a lean 208 pounds. A lot of his weight seems to be structured in the upper body.
Landry has been diligently working through a battery of neck exercises to strengthen the trapezius and shoulder muscles to provide extra armor and support for the neck. He laughed when asked if he’s now wearing a larger dress shirt size.
Besides the grueling rehabilitation and the discomfort that followed the injury last season, Landry had to endure the mental pain of not being able to contribute on the field during the Ravens’ unexpected run to the AFC title game.
“It was pretty tough because you want to be out there with your teammates, with your brothers,” Landry said. “You want to be a part of that. I’m going to make up for that lost time."
Even the most successful defensive backs get beat. So, it takes a bit of temporary amnesia to shrug off a bad play.
For Landry, it’s going to entail pushing past a painful memory to reclaim his old, hard-hitting form.
“You need to have short-term memory,” Landry said. “It is about courage. You can’t play the game scared. Otherwise, you might as well not play the game at all. This definitely makes me thankful and blessed to get another chance.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.