Ngata is tackling growth

The Baltimore Sun

At 6 feet 4 and 340 pounds, Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata can be a load for opposing offensive linemen.

There might be just as much weight on Ngata's shoulders.

After a stellar rookie season during which he contributed to building the league's top-ranked defense, the bar has been raised in Ngata's second year.

Sports Illustrated's Web site recently named him as one of the league's top 10 defenders under the age of 25. Teammate Trevor Pryce predicted Ngata would make the Pro Bowl in his third season.

But Ngata is shrugging off those expectations in the same manner he escapes a clutch-and-hold move by a guard.

"We have so many playmakers on our defense that it's not going to be on any one player," he said last week. "So I'm not putting any pressure on my own shoulders. I'm just going to go out there and play."

That's all the organization wanted from Ngata after making the former Oregon player the 12th overall pick and first defensive tackle selected in the 2006 draft.

According to NFL statistics, Ngata had 31 tackles, one sack and one interception last season. Those numbers fell short of those of fellow defensive tackles in the class of 2006, including Kyle Williams of the Buffalo Bills, Barry Cofield of the New York Giants and Kedric Golston of the Washington Redskins.

But Ngata started all 16 regular-season games last season, a feat matched only by Cofield. And in Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan's intricate schemes, one of Ngata's primary tasks is to tie up one or two offensive linemen to spring one of the linebackers.

Ngata showed up at training camp last month seemingly stronger and slimmer, but the biggest change, he said, has occurred on the mental level.

"I believe more in myself just because I know the plays, I know the people around me," he said. "Last year, all it was for me was physical. I was just trying to hit and get into people's bodies and try to make plays off of them. Now, I can just line up anywhere and go where I need to go."

Coach Brian Billick agreed, saying: "Although he was very poised and mature for us last year, there's that next level, that understanding. You can see that there's a calmness about him because he truly understands what his role is, what he needs to do in the scheme of the defense. He's going to have a hell of a year."

Ngata said he is beginning to read and comprehend the alignments posed by offenses.

"Since I know what I'm doing now, I can see the offensive formation and I don't have to think about what I'm doing," he said. "I can see what's going on with their side and just play."

One area in which Ngata is still trying to improve is avoiding the clinches linemen use to prevent a lineman from disrupting plays in the backfield. Ngata, who admitted struggling with that last season, said he is seeing small improvements while working with defensive line coach Clarence Brooks.

"I'm just working with my hands, trying to get guys off of me," Ngata said. "I want to get better and better as the time goes by."

Pryce believes Ngata is almost there. "It takes a defensive lineman about two years for the light to click on," Pryce said. "With a man that big and strong, it's pretty much a given. It's a not a matter of if, it's a matter of when."

Ngata seemed almost embarrassed when asked about Pryce's comment. "It makes me feel good, gives me confidence coming from a guy that's been to the Pro Bowl," Ngata said. "I'm just using it as a tool to keep me up and keep me going."

Notes -- Running back Cory Ross, one of 20 players the Ravens cut Saturday to reach the 53-man roster limit, was one of seven signed to the team's practice squad. The team also signed defensive tackles Anthony Bryant and Atiyyah Ellison, cornerback Willie Gaston, offensive tackle Mike Kracalik, guard-center Ikechuku Ndukwe and wide receiver Matt Willis.

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