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Ravens go big time

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Somewhere Ray Lewis is probably smiling.

In a move that should surely quiet the linebacker's recent cries, the Ravens beefed up their defensive line in a sizable way, trading up one spot in yesterday's NFL draft to take Oregon nose tackle Haloti Ngata with the No. 12 pick of the first round.

Ngata, a 6-foot-4, 337-pound cog, is expected to get the Ravens back to their Super Bowl formula in which their massive defensive tackles allowed Lewis to run free by shielding him from blockers.

"This is a big block of granite," director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said. "He's a guy who is tough to move. I think he's going to pose nightmares for teams in our division in trying to get him off the ball."

The biggest defensive first-round pick in the Ravens' illustrious draft history - at least by size - was not warmly received by everyone.

Moments after Ngata's name was announced, ESPN analyst and former Pro Bowl offensive lineman Mark Schlereth blasted the Pac-10's co-Defensive Player of the Year for being slow and unmotivated.

"You're going to need a propane torch to light a fire under this guy," Schlereth said. "I don't see a guy who can control the line of scrimmage. He took plays off consistently. He's on the ground more than the grass. I don't like the pick at all."

The Ravens strongly defended Ngata, their top-rated defensive lineman in the draft.

It's difficult to argue with the Ravens considering their track record. Five of the six defensive players drafted by the Ravens in the first round (Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware, Chris McAlister, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs) have made the Pro Bowl. Only cornerback Duane Starks, a four-year starter, failed to do so.

"I think before we got Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams [the two defensive tackles on their Super Bowl team], they said they took a lot of plays off," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "[Ngata] is on a defense where everybody runs to the football. So that's not a concern."

The bigger concern for the Ravens was whether they would have a shot at Ngata.

The Ravens' other top targets for the first half of the first round - Texas quarterback Vince Young, Texas safety Michael Huff and Florida State outside linebacker Ernie Sims - were gone after the top nine selections.

By the 12th pick, the Ravens faced a decision: Wait to see if the Cleveland Browns would draft their last coveted player or trade with them.

Browns general manager Phil Savage, who headed the Ravens' scouting department for nine years, first spoke with Newsome about the possibility of swapping the 12th and 13th picks yesterday morning.

A few hours later - after Savage called the Ravens, Newsome said - the first trade between the Ravens (who relocated from Cleveland in 1996) and the Browns was complete. The Ravens sent one of their three sixth-round picks to move up and select Ngata.

"Ngata was clearly the best guy left on our board," DeCosta said. "There was a little bit of concern that Cleveland could take him. It was a good trade to make."

The Ravens had the choice of the consensus top two defensive tackles in the draft. But they strongly favored Ngata over Florida State's Brodrick Bunkley, who was considered a health risk by team officials, a league source said.

Of the past 13 defensive tackles taken in the top 15 of the draft, five have become Pro Bowl players.

"He was a guy we wanted. He fits us so very well," Newsome said. "There's no doubt that we feel we got very good value."

The Ravens were set to go with smaller defensive tackles Kelly Gregg and Justin Bannan after massive nose tackle Maake Kemoeatu left in free agency.

But Ngata, who is expected to start alongside Gregg, is not just seen as a replacement for Kemoeatu. The Ravens believe Ngata is an upgrade.

When he dominated at Oregon, Ngata showed flashes of rare agility, range and strength.

Newsome said he spoke with a couple of Oregon players, who told him that Ngata was held out of the spring game so the offense could run smoothly.

DeCosta said a perfect example of Ngata's hustle was on a special teams play in which he blocked a kick, peeled back and chased down the punter 15 yards downfield.

In his last 23 games (which followed a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in 2003), he totaled 107 tackles, 6 1/2 sacks and 17 1/2 stops for losses. His seven blocked kicks were a school record.

But even Ngata knows there is work to be done.

"I need to be more consistent," said Ngata, who lost his father in a car crash in 2003 and his mother to a sudden heart attack three months ago. "I need to play hard all the time and not just when I want to."

If nothing else, Ngata's arrival is timely.

About a week and a half ago, Lewis publicly criticized the Ravens for going away from their successful scheme in which two bulky tackles tied up blockers in front of him.

Newsome said Lewis' pointed remarks had no affect on the team's draft plans.

"Steve [Bisciotti, team owner] invests a lot of money in our ability to draft players," Newsome said. "When we put our board together, it's all based on the information we gained from our scouts. If Ray would have known Haloti, yeah I would have used that. That had nothing to do with that."

Asked if the addition of Ngata will put Lewis in a better mood, Newsome said, "Ray will be happy when we win because that's when I'll be happy, too."

The Ravens gained a third-round pick from the New York Giants by moving down 12 slots in the second round.

The Ravens selected Oklahoma center-guard Chris Chester in the second round and Northwestern State (La.) nickel back David Pittman in the third. Team officials are still holding out hope they will find a starting safety in the fourth round today.

"We anticipate that we've improved quite a bit," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "We expect Ngata to be a major factor for us on first and second down. And hopefully, Pittman will help us on third down."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

History of No. 12 pick

The past 10 years of No. 12 picks in the draft:

Year Team Player, Pos. School

2006 Ravens Haloti Ngata, DE Oregon

2005 Chargers Shawne Merriman, OLB Maryland

2004 Jets Jonathan Vilma, MLB Miami

2003 Rams Jimmy Kennedy, DT Penn State 2002 Cardinals Wendell Bryant, DT Wisconsin 2001 Rams Damione Lewis, NT Miami

2000 Jets Shaun Ellis, DE Tennessee

1999 Bears Cade McNown, QB UCLA

1998 Falcons Keith Brooking, OLB Georgia Tech

1997 Bucs Warrick Dunn, RB Florida State

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