The NFL regular season is a grind, regardless of whether your team is winning or losing.
You've got a month worth of training camp starting in late-July, four preseason games and then 17 weeks of seemingly constant practices, meetings and regular season contests. Every move you make on the field (and even off of it) is analyzed and criticized by coaches, fans and the media, and if you're lucky enough to get to the playoffs, the intensity of it all gets ratcheted up another level or two.
That's why players talk all the time about how important it is to stay loose over the course of a season.
This year, no one has had to tell Terrence Cody that he needs to try and loosen up. The Ravens' second-year nose tackle often looks like a wind-up doll on the field and in the locker room, dancing around in between series and during timeouts on gameday, and bumping music after practices to get his teammates hyped up.
This represents a stark contrast to last season, when Cody - then overweight, out of shape and trying to scratch and claw for playing time - was a quiet, reserved rookie. He's now the Ravens' starting nose tackle and has quickly become one of the emotional catalysts on this Ravens defense.
"He can be a lot looser this year because he understands it more," says veteran defensive end Cory Redding. "I think he learned real quick how to be a pro. Came in this year under weight, got real good at his fundamentals, and he really took it and ran with now. Now, he's making it into his own. He's out there loose and dancing and learning when he can be aggressive on certain plays. He's a big kid at heart. He's still got a lot of growing up to do, but he's just having fun and that's what it's all about. He's real loose, and that's a good thing."
"Last year, I came in as a rookie trying to find my way on the team," Cody said. "I came in this year ready, knowing I was going to have to step up. I kinda got comfortable and the guys got comfortable with me, and I'm playing good and they notice it. Now I'm just letting my personality shine."
If you've been to a Ravens game this season, you've probably seen that personality during TV timeouts or as the defense heads on to the field for the start of a new series. After all, Cody's hard to miss. Listed at 6-foot-4, 349 lbs. (and that's even a little generous), Cody takes up a lot of space in the middle of the Baltimore defense, and he lets that big body move during breaks as he hops around and lets his head sway back and forth to the music playing through the stadium speakers.
He might get overshadowed in the swagger department because of a guy like Terrell Suggs - who also has been known to dance around a little bit and get the crowd fired up - but Cody says he feels his looseness between plays helps him perform better during them.
"Me, I always put it like this: If you're always tight, that's not a happy life," Cody said. "If you're always tight and always serious, that's not happy. But if you're loose and having fun and playing the game, (it's much better). The game is supposed to be fun. That's how I look at it. When I'm loose, I play better, I'm focused on a lot more things. When I'm serious, I tend to try to do things I can't do and end up messing things up with missed assignments and stuff."
"When you get too tight and you're worrying about stuff, you don't get a lot done," Redding added, sitting at his locker just a few stools down from Cody. "You hesitate, you're second-guessing yourself and you're not playing the way the game's supposed to be played. When you look at kids out on the field, they don't guess, they don't hesitate or slow down, they play fast, they play loose. They just fly around because they're out playing football in somebody's backyard. That's how T.C. approaches the game. He's so loose with it, he understands the game and he just goes out and attacks the game the way the coaches want him to do it."
His attitude has helped translate into solid play, as Cody has replaced former mainstay Kelly Gregg and started all 16 games this season, making 34 tackles. He often occupies double-teams up front, allowing the linebackers behind him to jump into gaps and rack up tackles close to the line of scrimmage.
Redding jokes that Cody, who has become one of the unofficial DJs in the locker room, needs to be more diverse with his music choices and mix in some soft jazz to complement his steady stream of rap.
I wouldn't hold my breath on that if I were Mr. Redding, but while the nine-year vet might not always agree with Cody's iPod selections, he says he appreciates the attitude that the youngster has helped bring to the Ravens' defense.
"He keeps the mood in the locker room cool," Redding said. "I think he's added to the swag of this unit. Just like myself and everybody else who became a part of this unit the last two years. You come in, add to it and keep rolling."