The difference between lining up over left tackle and the left shoulder of the left guard may not seem vast, but Haloti Ngata admits he felt lost in space when asked to play the five-technique defensive end position in 2012.
“Playing defensive end, it’s too much space for me,” Ngata said Tuesday evening. “I like the guys around me.”
That’s why Ngata got downright giddy, at least by his standards, when asked about the free-agent signings of defensive linemen Chris Canty and Marcus Spears and the draft selection of big nose tackle Brandon Williams.
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“That’s huge,” the 340-pound tackle quickly said. “That is huge.”
Besides giving Ngata, 29, an opportunity to get more rest during games, the additions should allow him to remain inside at nose tackle or at three-technique defensive tackle, letting him line up against the center or a guard. That’s his preference.
“Just because of my body type, the way I play. I’m explosive, quick inside,” he said. “Outside, tackles are vacating the line of scrimmage. I’m not fast enough to catch up. Inside, I’m just able to get my hands on guards and centers and do what I want with them pretty much if I can get to where I need to be.”
Ngata battled injuries the past two years and his weight has been a topic of conversation the past two offseasons. But when he is healthy and fresh, he remains one of the most dominant defensive tackles in the NFL.
In 2012, the Pro Bowler made 51 tackles during the regular season and reached five sacks for the third straight season.
In the Super Bowl, he helped short-circuit the high-powered running attack of the San Francisco 49ers. But when Ngata left the game with a sprained knee, an injury he is still recovering from, the 49ers suddenly became nearly unstoppable.
Ngata watched team drills during the final week of voluntary workouts and the first day of mandatory minicamp from the sideline because of his knee. But when he returns to the practice field, he will be surrounded by new faces in the huddle.
The Ravens drafted Williams to compete with fourth-year disappointment Terrence Cody. Canty and Spears have been added to a suddenly deep rotation that includes Arthur Jones, DeAngelo Tyson and Pernell McPhee, though McPhee could be moved to rush linebacker, according to the coaching staff.
“What we tried to do is build around Haloti upfront. In the front seven, we made a little bit of an overhaul with our front seven,” coach John Harbaugh said, listing all of his linemen. “We feel like we have a lot of really good depth up front, which is going to make Haloti better and in turn make our defense better.”
The biggest addition might be Canty, and I’m not just saying that because he towers over his fellow linemen at 6-foot-7.
Canty battled knee injuries with the New York Giants, but if he can avoid the training room here in Baltimore, he figures to be their starting five-technique defensive end. If he can provide pass-rushing prowess, he will help keep offenses honest and free up Ngata to play on the inside.
That would be ideal for Ngata, who made it clear that he doesn’t want to get lost in space again in 2013.
“They should leave me in one spot instead of moving me around, basically,” he said, the massive man mountain's voice remaining soft and monotone. “Just leave me in the middle, and I’ll be fine.”