Jan. 11, 2007
By Simit Shah
To say that Dawan Landry is living the NFL dream is an understatement.
Just one year removed from Georgia Tech’s defensive backfield, Landry has gone from a middle-round draft pick to starting safety on the league’s best defense.
His life changed with a single phone call in April. He was in his native Louisiana driving his girlfriend to the airport when Ozzie Newsome called. The Baltimore Ravens’ general manager told Landry the team had selected him in the fifth round and felt he had a shot to contribute right away.
“I’ve really been blessed in a lot of ways,” the rookie said. “I didn’t know what to expect when I came here, but I felt prepared. I just wanted to fit in with the guys and show that I belonged in the NFL.”
There’s no doubt that Landry belongs in the NFL. After an impressive preseason, the 6-foot, 220-pounder immediately stepped into the starting lineup at strong safety. Week by week, Landry displayed the skills that earned him all-ACC honors at Georgia Tech and a well-deserved reputation as a big hitter.
Over the course of the 16-game regular season, Landry ended up tied for the team lead with five interceptions and finished fifth on the team was 82 tackles, emerging as a key contributor on an unit that led the entire league in total defense (264 yards per game), scoring defense (12.6 points per game), interceptions (26) and takeaways (37).
“I definitely felt more comfortable as the season went on,” said Landry, who earned his Tech degree in Management in December of 2005. “Playing in the NFL is more mental than physical. People might think it’s the other way around, but you have to spend a lot more time studying. There’s a lot going on in the field, and you have to stay on top of it.”
“From the first week, you could see his maturity,” cornerback Chris McAlister told the Baltimore Sun. “He picked up the defense extremely fast. Nobody expected him to come out and get five interceptions and play as solid as he has. He’s definitely gone above and beyond anybody’s expectations, but at this point, we just kind of expect it out of him.”
Landry, who came to Georgia Tech as a lefthanded quarterback, credits the tutelage of Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta with helping him to handle the NFL’s steep learning curve.
“Coach Tenuta really prepared us for the NFL,” he explained. “We’re doing a lot of the same things with just some different terminology. When I got here, I was probably ahead of other rookies as far as knowledge.”
The adjustment to the NFL was also made easier thanks to fellow Yellow Jacket P.J. Daniels. The running back was selected two rounds earlier by the Ravens in last spring’s draft, so the duo has weathered their rookie seasons together.
“That definitely helped,” noted Landry. “Having a friend and familiar face around makes things a lot easier, especially going through training camp.”
Landry also keeps tabs on his former teammates still in school, tracking them on TV and the Internet this past season. He drops by campus when he can and also talks to tailback Tashard Choice on a regular basis.
Rest assured, the current Yellow Jackets will be watching this Saturday when Landry and the Ravens host Indianapolis in an AFC divisional playoff game.
“It’s going to be a real interesting game,” Landry predicted. “We’re the top defense in the NFL, and everyone knows about the Colts’ offense. We’ve had a week off, so we’re ready for them.”
A victory will put them one game away from the Super Bowl and continue Landry’s surreal journey.
“It’s truly a dream come true,” said Landry, whose brother, LaRon, is likely to join him in the NFL next season. “Just the other day, I was just telling my parents that I hope I don’t wake up.”