What did Savage know that Ravens didn't about Ngata?

On the Ravens

April 30, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON

The Ravens were celebrating taking Oregon defensive tackle Haloti Ngata with the No. 12 overall pick yesterday in the NFL draft, but their former draft guru raised a flag of caution.

Phil Savage, the Ravens' former director of college scouting who is now the Cleveland Browns' general manager, originally had a chance to take Ngata at No. 12, but swapped the pick with the Ravens to slide back to No. 13 and also get the Ravens' sixth-round selection.

You can understand the Ravens' happiness.

They got a wide-bodied run-stopper to replace Maake Kemoeatu, who bolted Baltimore for the Carolina Panthers during free agency earlier this year. They got a behemoth who might be able to shut down the other team's running game, and also possibly silence Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis, who has criticized the front office during the past three years for not having a big, defensive tackle to protect him in the middle.

But while Ngata seems to provide some answers, Savage opened some questions. Why didn't Savage select Ngata, especially since the Browns run a 3-4 defense? Who else called the Browns when they were on the clock? Do you actually think Savage would do the Ravens any favors?

All week long, Savage told everyone he wanted Ngata, and then at the last minute he sold him to the Ravens. Maybe Savage was blowing smoke all week to bluff the Ravens, but Cleveland runs a 3-4 defense and its starting nose guard is Ted Washington, who has weight problems and is 38 years old.

The nose guard is probably the most critical position in a 3-4. Washington is a stopgap player, and there is a good chance he won't make it through the year without being injured.

If Ngata was the real deal, why didn't Savage take him?

"Maybe because he has Ted Washington," answered Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome.

But isn't he old?

"I don't know why, then," Newsome said. "Maybe you ought to ask Phil."

Savage was unavailable for direct comment, but was asked about why he didn't take Ngata by Cleveland reporters. Savage started to answer the question, but then stopped abruptly, and started talking about something else.

That makes you wonder.

Savage is a smart guy. He earned that great reputation as a draft master during his 10 years in Baltimore. He helped draft players such as offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, linebackers Peter Boulware and Ray Lewis, safety Ed Reed and running back Jamal Lewis.

He may have played the Ravens for a sixth-round pick yesterday, which isn't much, but maybe he didn't like Ngata after all. The 6-foot-4, 338-pound player has his share of critics. He supposedly has a weight problem, and reportedly takes plays off. On film, he appears slow at times. "I think I need to work on a lot of my technique and being more consistent," Ngata said. "[I need to be] playing hard all the time, and not just when I want to. That's probably the [biggest] thing I need to work on."

"He's on the ground more than grass," said ESPN commentator Mark Schlereth, a former offensive lineman with the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos. "I don't like this pick. You can't be taking a nap on the field. You can't be taking plays off like he does."


Did Savage see something the Ravens didn't? Did he see the same things as several ESPN commentators, who openly criticized the Ravens for taking Ngata?

I'd like to know if the Philadelphia Eagles, who drafted Florida State defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley with the No. 14 overall pick, called Savage when the Browns were on the clock.

It's hard to knock the Ravens for taking Ngata. They couldn't go through the season with 310-pound Kelly Gregg and 310-pound Justin Bannan as the starting tackles. That was trouble. Everyone would have tried to run up the middle against the Ravens with two lightweight tackles, and an aging middle linebacker who has missed almost two full seasons in the past four with injuries.

Ngata was regarded by most of the draft experts as the top defensive tackle in the college game. He has great power, and can toss offensive linemen aside. He'll occasionally run down opposing ball carriers to the opposite side of the field. He isn't a pass rusher, but he doesn't need to be in the Ravens' system.

Because of his size, the Ravens like to compare him to former tackles Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams. He is no Adams. He doesn't have the same explosion and can't penetrate as much. Ngata is more of a Siragusa, just a load who can occupy space or offensive linemen.

It's hard to doubt the Ravens in this situation because they've had a lot of success in the past. They've had only two failures while picking close to this area, first with Florida wide receiver Travis Taylor at No. 10 in 2000, and the other is Cal quarterback Kyle Boller at No. 19 in 2003 even though the verdict isn't in yet on Boller.

But you really would like to know what Savage really thought about Ngata. We understand why he took Florida State defensive end Kamerion Wimbley a pick after the Ravens. The Browns had the fewest sacks in the league last year and Wimbley is a pass-rushing specialist. He has high character, and came highly recommended to Savage by Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden.

But you can't get over the fact that Savage passed over Ngata. And when he did, Savage raised some eyebrows.


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