When the NFL owners' lockout was first announced, there was fear that some of the league's biggest players would get bigger, because they wouldn't have the discipline to remain fit without the various mini-camps.
But the Ravens' Haloti Ngata has shrunk.
The giant defensive tackle out of Oregon has lost 25 pounds, down to 325. He is faster, stronger, quicker and poised to have a third straight Pro Bowl season.
And the strike has helped.
"I've used the time off to spend more time with my family," said Ngata, who is living Salt Lake City. "It's quality time with my wife and son, so that's a positive.
"But while spending more time away from football, I was able to work out more. I've been running and working out six days a week. I'm more focused in my workouts, and I feel quicker and stronger. The weight loss and the quickness are definitely noticeable."
Possibly the strongest Raven, Ngata has one weakness, and that's flying. He admits those cross-country flights several times a year cause stress, and with the stress comes a change in his diet, and more pounds.
Long flights haven't been a concern this offseason. Ngata has worked out on the University of Utah campus with several current and former NFL players, including former Ravens left guardEdwin Mulitalo.
Imagine the brute force in that weight room.
"The diet has been steady," Ngata said. "In fact, the workouts have been good even though there hasn't been a lot of football stuff."
The rest of the NFL really doesn't want to see a leaner, faster Ngata, who finished sixth on the team in tackles last year with 65.
Other teams are fully aware of him. They game plan for him and try to bang him around with double teams. If Ngata had one weakness in his game, it was as a pass rusher. But last year he had a career high 5.5 sacks and consistently forced the opposing quarterback to move.
"I was happy that I improved, but you can never be satisfied," Ngata said. "I still have to improve as a pass rusher. I've watched film and thought I missed some tackles. I have to work on putting myself in better position to make those tackles."
Like many players, Ngata is starting to get a little antsy. They aren't nervous yet, but it's getting to the point where they're starting to get the feint smell of training camp. Ngata particularly misses the camaraderie.
"Hopefully, we can get a deal done and we can get back to work," he said. "They'll get one done because the players love this game, the owners love this game and so do the fans.
"Spending time with your family is good, but you start to miss some of the football stuff in the workouts. "You start missing the team and the guys, especially the defensive guys. I've been texting J.J. [Jarret Johnson], Arthur Jones and Terrence Cody, asking them how are they doing and how are their workouts. I miss the team atmosphere."
Once the lockout ends, there will be a slight difference for Ngata and the rest of the Ravens defense. Chuck Pagano has replaced Greg Mattison, who was the defensive coordinator the past two seasons.
Like the rest of the team, Ngata isn't sure what to expect from Pagano.
"Actually, I was surprised by [Mattison] leaving," Ngata said . "But he called me the night before the announcement. He told me it was a family decision and he was going to be around his family more in Michigan, and I'm happy for him. I don't know much about Chuck Pagano or how he will call plays. We'll watch how aggressive he is. I do know he gets excited and has a passion for the game. "
So does Ngata.
Shortly before the lockout was announced, the Ravens named him their franchise player, a designation that frustrated some of his former teammates because they didn't get a long-term contract despite being one of the highest paid at their positions for the season.
Some of those players threatened and held out of training camps. Ngata doesn't feel the same way.
"We did the research, and [the team has] done this before. I expected it," Ngata said. "Maybe they need the cap room to bring in other players. I just want to go out and play at a high level where they want to offer me the big, long-term contract."
And he wants to get past the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs in two of the past three seasons.
"We're close to winning it all, but we've got to find a way to beat those guys to get over the hump," Ngata said. "We can't keep letting them come back on us. Hopefully, we'll win more games during the regular season and get a playoff game at home. That's what we really need."