While most of the Ravens are enjoying their offseason visiting family or taking exotic vacations, defensive tackle **Kelly Gregg** is determined on conquering a Stair Master.
Sure, lounging on a beach would be nice, but Gregg is simply happy to be able to lift his 315-pound frame up each step, a practice he's repeated countless times as he rehabilitates his surgically-repaired left knee.
"With the work I've been doing, I think I'll come back 100 percent," Gregg said after one such workout earlier this week. "I've been in the weight room, doing squats to get my strength back. I've climbed about a million stairs. I never want to see a stair climber again."
For just over eight years, giving 100 percent was never in question for the notoriously tough lineman.
Midway through the Ravens' 2008 training camp, however, Gregg came up limping with nagging pain in his left knee.
"No big deal," thought the typically durable nose tackle. He'd worked through various nicks, strains and sprains throughout his entire career.
Gregg underwent arthroscopic surgery on the knee in August with the idea that he could return after missing a few games.
But when that pain – coupled with habitual swelling every time he attempted to run or push off – persisted, Gregg realized that he had a bigger situation on his hands than originally anticipated.
Weeks of unsuccessful rehab finally pushed Gregg to micro-fracture surgery and a spot on Injured Reserve. Hardly a guaranteed procedure, patients sustain tiny cracks in their knee to help stimulate the growth of cartilage during the healing process.
While it is fairly common among professional basketball players, Gregg knew that micro-fracture surgery painted a different picture for a 32-year-old football player.
"I had questions whether I could push off it ever again," admitted Gregg, who is known for using leverage generated by his squat, 6-foot frame to manhandle offensive linemen. "I'm glad I got [the surgery] done. It's a risky procedure, but it was either that or nothing. There was no way I could push off. Now, I'm pushing off, I'm squatting.
"It's been going really well. The knee feels better, like night and day. I feel like I should have gotten my right leg done, too, because it feels so good."
It can't be easy for a man of Gregg's stature to escape the public eye for an extended period of time, but that is exactly what he did for much of the 2008 campaign.
Gregg said he regularly slipped in and out of team headquarters in Owings Mills, Md., to rehab throughout the season and has been working out five days a week in the offseason.
"I'd shoot home every so often, but that last year was tough on my wife because she had me around so much," he joked.
Gregg could not bring himself to attend Ravens games on Sundays, though.
Watching from afar, the Oklahoma native was one of the Ravens' biggest fans as they marched all the way to the AFC Championship without him.
Despite not having Gregg – Baltimore's second all-time tackler in franchise history – in the lineup, the Ravens' defense didn't miss a beat.
Promoting **Justin Bannan** to the first team, the Ravens finished as the NFL's third-stingiest run defense and furthered its steak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher to a league-best 35 games.
Gregg's return, along with that of backup defensive tackle **Dwan Edwards**, who landed on IR with a back injury, will only further bolster the unit.
"For me, it was like I was dead or something last year. I just snuck in and out of here, did my work and left," Gregg said.
"But it was great to see Justin do so well. I always knew those guys would do well. I'm just happy to be able to get back. We're the first line of defense out there, so we have to be strong. Getting Dwan and me back should help them."
For a player that had previously only missed two games because of injury in his career, being relegated to a mere observer is something Gregg never wants to experience again.
"I really haven't been injured a lot in the past," said Gregg. "I was always able to overcome injuries when I did get them, but finally I had to bite the bullet and get the surgery done. It was great to see the team do good, but you want to be out there with them."
Gregg then paused for a brief second, as if the mountain he's currently climbing step by step suddenly rounded into focus.
"You know what?" he asked with his trademark wide smile crossing his face. "I'm really just chomping at the bit for next season. It's been too long for me."