Ngata's conditioning is at least cause for some concern

It's still early, but veteran defensive tackle's absence isn't good for Ravens

August 01, 2012|Kevin Cowherd

Ladies and gentlemen, at long last we have a Haloti Ngata update.

It comes to us courtesy of Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who after practice Wednesday at the Castle said the big defensive tackle's hamstring strain is finally getting better.

"Haloti's coming along," Harbaugh said. "Haloti thinks he's pretty close. We're probably working him a little slower than he'd like us to. But he's starting to run now. I think he's going to be fine very soon. We don't have a timetable."

Not having a timetable is probably a smart move on the Ravens' part, since Ngata hurt the hamstring in his conditioning test, which he still has to pass. And no one wants to see him pull up lame during the test and be out for an extended period, which would leave a hole in the defense the size of Montana.

There's also this: Ngata's wife, Christine, just delivered their second child Monday night, a son named Haloti Maximus.

So if there's ever a good time to rest a sore hammy, it's probably right after your wife has a baby and could use a hand around the house — at least for a day or two.

(A quick note about little Haloti Maximus' name — personally, I love it. But it does sort of put pressure on the kid to be excel, doesn't it? You can't be called Maximus and be the last kid picked for basketball in gym class is all I'm saying.)

For the record, Harbaugh said he's not concerned that Ngata has missed the first six days of training camp and could probably miss quite a few more.

But I'm sorry, in the back of their minds, the Ravens have to be at least a little worried about the defensive tackle's conditioning levels.

I say that because Ngata didn't show up for any of the voluntary minicamps this spring.

That was certainly his right. They're called voluntary for a reason. But when he showed up at the mandatory minicamp in June, he looked heavy and out of shape.

At the time, Ngata said he wanted to play at a heavier weight this season, closer to 345 pounds than the 335 he'd played at the year before. He said the weight loss hurt him going up against some of the monster offensive linemen he regularly faces.

"I just didn't feel as strong," he said. "I think this year I'm probably going to get up on the weight just a little bit just to help me get some of that power."

That makes sense, but when he showed up for training camp at the heavier weight and promptly strained his hamstring, it had to set off an alarm.

And that alarm will keep ringing until Ngata returns to the practice field and is 100 percent healthy, which may or not happen soon.

Let's face it — injuries to hamstrings are notoriously tricky. They can take awhile to fully heal.

Sure, it's still early in training camp, which is why the Ravens are publicly low-keying Ngata's absence at this point. But missing all this time figures to put even more pressure on the veteran once the season rolls around because the Ravens need him to play a big role this year.

With linebacker Terrell Suggs sidelined until at least November with a torn Achilles tendon and Paul Kruger untested as an every-down linebacker, the Ravens need a healthy Ngata to stuff the run, occupy blockers for the linebackers and pressure the quarterback more than ever.

That why they gave him a huge deal last September, signing him to a five-year, $61 million contract after he finished 2010 with 65 tackles and a career-high 5 1/2 sacks.

According to Forbes magazine, Ngata was the 12th-highest-paid athlete in the world last season, pulling in $37 million in combined salary, bonuses and other endorsements.

But the truth is, Ngata had a disappointing season — at least by his lofty standards.

Sure, he made the Pro Bowl for the third consecutive year. And he finished with 65 tackles and five sacks for a Ravens defense that ranked third in the NFL.

But after starting well, he was hampered by a deep thigh bruise and seemed to wear down late in the season. And by the time the playoffs rolled around, he was basically a non-factor for the Ravens.

That can't happen this season. Not with Suggs out until who knows when. Not with the killer schedule the Ravens have. Not if they want to make the playoffs for the fifth year in a row.

The Ravens need Haloti Ngata at his best. They need him to get off to a great start.

Having him strain a hamstring in a conditioning test isn't a great omen.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."

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