Those who have spent time around second-year nose tackle Terrence Cody this season have noticed two main changes in the Alabama product compared to his rookie season.
The first is how Cody is approaching the game with a more business-like mentality, studying the finer points of his craft, giving his all in practice and taking care of himself off the field.
Then there's that whole weight thing.
Cody says he's lost nearly 30 pounds from his playing weight of last season, which, as you might imagine, has prompted a chorus of jokes from his teammates and coaches.
"He looks like half of himself," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano says.
"He looks like he gave birth to two people," jokes defensive end Cory Redding.
Cracks about his weight aside, Cody's effort this offseason has played a crucial role in the Ravens' strong defensive play to start the 2011 campaign. He's posted five tackles, has clogged up running lanes and has occupied multiple offensive linemen at a time, allowing his linebackers to roam freely and rack up tackles near the line of scrimmage.
"Last year, Terrence was the epitome of a rookie," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "He talked about Alabama all the time. He was a rookie, you know? This year, man, he has worked so hard. He looks great. I think he's playing at a weight that's perfect for what he does. He's moving around, (and) he understands the scheme of how to play run defense. Everybody thinks you just take a big strong guy and stick him at nose tackle and he's going to be good. That's just not true.
"You've got to know how to play leverage. You've got to see the backfield and how to lean which way to anticipate the block. He's learning all that stuff, and he is light years better than he was last year."
Cody willingly admits that he didn't fully have his act together last season. He was out of shape and unsure of how to act like a professional, and his playing time suffered. While he played behind veteran Kelly Gregg, Cody still saw limited snaps through much of the season, and often went games at a time without making much of an impact.
It was a wake-up call to a player who had dominated at the collegiate level, and wanted to get back on top of his game.
"I just learned that this is a different level, competition-wise," Cody said. "If you don't do what you're supposed to do, you ain't going to play, you ain't going to see the field. I took that last year and brought it with me this offseason. I trained, tried to get right, and tried to come back in as best shape as I could."
The 2010 second-round pick says he spent the offseason training twice a day, five to six days a week, for over two months. He improved his diet and focused more on living a healthy lifestyle and improving his craft.
"I had to stop doing a lot of things that I was doing," Cody said. "I had to discipline myself, not really cold turkey or anything, but stop doing the things I was doing and try to do better to better myself."
What types of "things"?
"Both on-field and off-field things," Cody said. "Taking care of your body and keeping things at home that are supposed to be at home."
Cody says his one year working alongside Gregg, a 12-year veteran who is considered one of the top nose tackles in the league, was huge in helping to learn the finer aspects of the position.
Even after Gregg was released in July, clearing the way for Cody to move into the starting lineup, the Ravens still wanted Cody to be able to learn from his mentor. So what'd they do? They cut up clips of Gregg's play on gamedays, gave Cody a copy and told him to study up.
Cody's still learning as he goes, but his teammates say his play has already improved by leaps and bounds. If that effort continues, the Ravens could have quite a presence on the inside with Cody and All Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
"He's moving well, he's running, his stamina is a lot better because all the extra weight is gone," Redding said. "I'm like, this is where you need to be. What you did in the offseason, continue to do that and have that approach every single day and you'll be phenomenal in this system."
"I think Cody, his spirit is the reason why he's in that role right now, because he wants to be the best," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "He wants to be somebody that comes in and contributes to our defense and be a part of everything that goes on. I just think his knowledge and humility of listening, and really trying to learn, is kind of what excites me about playing behind a Terrence Cody."