Prescott Burgess scraped past a flailing blocker as he picked up speed and zeroed in on his target, using his hands to keep the offensive lineman away from his upper body.
Then, the Baltimore Ravens’ backup strongside linebacker unloaded on running back Jalen Parmele for a loud collision as the sound of plastic popping resonated on the practice field at McDaniel College during the second week of training camp.
Burgess played only sparingly as a rookie in 2007 and then landed on injured reserve list in 2008. Heading into his fourth year, he plays the game with a quiet intensity as if he’s hungry to make up for lost time.
“I’m fighting every day,” said Burgess, who didn’t practice Wednesday due to a migraine. “The coaches say I’m looking real good out there. I’ve just got to carry it on to the regular season. Hopefully, I’m still here and playing for this team.
“These guys out there say I’m one of the toughest guys on the team. I’m glad they see this is a game of football. Once I cross the line, it’s all about making plays and dominating whoever lines up across from me.”
One season removed from leading the Ravens in special-teams tackles, Burgess is contending for playing time as a valuable reserve linebacker who’s capable of playing Sam linebacker behind starter Jarret Johnson or filling in for All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis in a pinch.
What’s distinguishing Burgess from a deep pack of linebackers is his ability to cover kicks and his hard-nosed nature.
He’s big, strong and regarded as one of the grittiest players on the team.
“Absolutely, Prescott is one of the toughest guys we’ve got,” Johnson said. “Prescott is just a football player. You can play him inside or outside, he can do it all. He’s a physical, smart, good football player and a great special teams player.”
Last season, Burgess emerged as an important contributor on special teams.
He recorded a career-high and team-high 34 special-teams tackles, stepping into a pivotal role with Pro Bowl special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo out for the season with a torn quadriceps.
It was a breakthrough season for Burgess, who was traded to the New England Patriots in September before being waived and then rejoining the Ravens.
“I just felt once I got traded and they brought me back that I had something to prove,” Burgess said. “Me getting traded and missing games and then leading the team in special-teams tackles, that’s a great start. It’s not going to end there. I’ve got more that I need to show and more I can do.”
Drafted in the sixth round of the 2007 NFL draft out of the University of Michigan, Burgess’ rookie season ended after eight games due to a hip flexor injury.
Then, he missed the entire 2008 season with a shoulder problem.
Burgess beat the odds last season by making the team. Now, he’s looking to expand his game.
“I think last year they got the feel for what I can do, I’m trying to add onto that this season,” Burgess said. “Hopefully, I’ll be the player I know I can be and show these coaches they’ve got a player on their hands. I want to show the coaches that I’m not just a special-teams guy. I can play on this defense, too.”
The 6-foot-3, 255-pounder has gained roughly 10 pounds of muscle since entering the NFL.
He’s many pounds removed from his prep All-American days as a safety in Warren, Ohio.
“I’m carrying the weight well,” Burgess said. “I guess I figured out what to do in the offseason. It’s helping me tremendously out here."
Burgess isn’t guaranteed a spot on the team, but it’s hard to envision many scenarios where he isn’t on the 53-man roster.
He’s Johnson’s primary backup with rookie Sergio Kindle all but officially ruled out for the season due to a fractured skull.
He’s capable of playing inside linebacker if needed.
And he’s expected to provide a key niche on special teams.
“Prescott’s playing well,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s fighting for a spot just like a lot of the guys are, and I think he’s acquitted himself extremely well. He’s had a very good camp.
“He’s very physical. He knows the defense inside and out. He’s a really good football player.”
At Michigan, Burgess started 20 games and registered 171 tackles with four sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and four interceptions with one returned for a touchdown.
Although Burgess has yet to establish himself as a well-known player, his value seemed to go up around the league when Patriots coach Bill Belichick, an astute talent evaluator, thought enough of him to execute a trade last season.
At this point, though, Burgess said he’s embracing being an underrated player.