Ravens' Haloti Ngata 'an absolute monster'

Defensive tackle, almost drafted Browns, now looks to run over them on way to Super Bowl

December 25, 2010|By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun

CLEVELAND — If the Ravens can clinch a playoff berth today at Cleveland Browns Stadium, Haloti Ngata will once again remember how his NFL prayers were answered by a hang-up.

During the 2006 draft, Ngata thought the Browns were going to select him in the first round. He was on the phone with Cleveland officials when they were on the clock with the 12th pick and was told he would be their choice unless a trade happened.

Then, the call abruptly ended.

"They just hung up," Ngata said. "Baltimore called me right away, so that was just the best day of my life."

The Ravens traded a sixth-round pick to switch places with the Browns and draft Ngata, a small price to pay considering the way it has worked out.

Ngata and the Ravens (10-4) are on the verge of going to the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons. The Browns (5-9), who drafted pass rusher Kamerion Wimbley instead of Ngata and have since traded him to the Oakland Raiders, have locked up their fourth losing season in the past five.

"I feel very lucky to be a part of an organization that goes to the playoffs often," Ngata said.

The Ravens, especially the defensive players, feel like they're the lucky ones.

Ngata is a different breed of defensive lineman, a position where players usually eat up space and receive nicknames like "The Refrigerator." He's more like a souped-up SUV, one that can drive over you as easily as run you down.

A rare combination of strength and agility, Ngata causes teams to run away from him and forces them to put multiple blockers on him in pass protection.

But he affects more than game plans. He affects games.

Ngata's pressure up the middle at Houston forced Texans quarterback Matt Schaub to throw the game-winning interception right to cornerback Josh Wilson in overtime.

Six days later, Ngata deflected a fourth-quarter pass from New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees that landed in the hands of defensive end Cory Redding and closed out another victory.

Finally, recognition

So, if the Browns had drafted Ngata, how would life be different for the Ravens?

"I don't really want to think about life without Haloti," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "I've gotten used to life with Haloti.

"As a linebacker, anytime he's lined up near me, I always feel good," Johnson said. "I'm always like, somebody is going to get their butt whupped on my side of the ball."

It's hard to explain, but football observers really didn't notice the Ravens' 6-foot-4,

350-pound defensive lineman until recently. Ngata had to wait four years to make his first Pro Bowl, last season.

He followed up one breakthrough season with another. He is fifth on the Ravens in tackles (62) and second in sacks (51/2).

Now, he is not only one of the most dominant defensive players, but he's also among the most feared. Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday called Ngata "an absolute monster."

The increased acclaim could even earn him some votes as the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year. Ngata has been featured in national publications and on websites. He has his own weekly radio show. And he led AFC defensive tackles with 341,496 Pro Bowl votes from fans, according to the league.

"The thing you see everywhere in the NFL and every type of football, the better some guys get, sometimes they don't keep reaching," Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "He just keeps reaching to be better and better and better. You can see by the way he's been playing this year. It's pretty evident. That's a real credit to him."

The attention that Ngata draws in games has led the Ravens to play a game with opponents: Guess where the biggest defensive player on the field is. To keep offenses from scheming against Ngata, the Ravens move him along the line, from over the center to over the guard — even to over the tight end.

Still, when offensive players see where Ngata is, he'll hear them check out of a play to run away from him.

"Haloti is a guy that you pretty much have to put two guys on every time," coach John Harbaugh said. "When he gets singled up, he's a problem. He's a problem in pass protection, and he's a problem in the run game."

Future foundation

With linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed in their 30s, team officials have talked about how the defense will eventually be built around players such as Ngata and Terrell Suggs.

Ngata, though, has already built an impressive foundation. Since he joined the Ravens, their run defense has ranked in the top five every season. As the Ravens look to redeem themselves against Cleveland's Peyton Hillis, they enter the matchup as the NFL's No.5 run defense, giving up 93.6 rushing yards per game.

"You couldn't build a more perfect football player," Johnson said. "He has smarts, work ethic, strength … you could go on and on. There's a lot of big, powerful strong guys in this league. A lot of them are jerks. Some of them are lazy. You don't find a lot of 350-pound guys that are energetic."

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