Young Defensive Tackles Battling

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Just over a month ago when Lamar Divens was rehabbing his surgically repaired hip, he stared at a return to a somewhat shallow competition pool.

Now, after the Ravens drafted defensive tackles Terrence Cody in the second round and Arthur Jones in the fifth, Divens participated in his first full practice Monday amidst a reignited competition.

He isn't alone. Divens, Brandon McKinney, and Kelly Talavou are three backup defensive tackles who face a battle with the newcomers to play behind starters Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg. And chances are, not all of them will make the team.

"Competition makes you play to your full potential," Divens said when asked about that possibility. "You want competition to push you. I can only control what I can control and that's the way I go."

All three defensive tackles shared the same, sunny outlook on competition. But two of them – Divens and McKinney – are at a somewhat early disadvantage as they are trying to return from injuries.

Divens, 24, had hip surgery on his left side in August, then on the right side in January. He was just trying to get his legs back and refocus his mind in practice Monday.

McKinney, 26, had back surgery in February to repair a herniated disc. He has lightly participated in individual drills and is aiming to return by training camp.

"I don't like it, but there's nothing I can do about it," McKinney said. "I've just got to focus on being ready when camp comes. I'm taking a lot of mental reps."

Talavou, 25, is learning the "two technique" (a defensive tackle position that is more about eating up blockers) in order to become more well-rounded. As he said, a player has a better chance of making the team if he is versatile.

At the same time, Talavou has taken the time to often give tips to Cody and Jones. It's quite a testament to Talavou's team-first mentality considering helping the rookies could hurt his own chances.

"When I came in here, the older guys helped me out," Talavou said. "I'm just trying to pass that down to them and not give them the cold shoulder. I'm not that kind of guy."

Talavou has looked solid this offseason after playing in three games in 2009. McKinney has the most experience with 38 overall games under his belt, including seven with the Ravens last season and 11 in 2008. Divens saw action in three Baltimore games in 2008, but spent last year on Injured Reserve.

The Ravens lost a defensive tackle from last year's team in Justin Bannan, who signed with the Broncos. So there's an extra spot open, but two new draft picks.

"We're all trying to step up and be that next [Justin] Bannan," Talavou said. "May the best man win."

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