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Mike Preston: Despite injury, former Ravens star Haloti Ngata ready for big return

Sports columnist Mike Preston gives an observation of the Baltimore Ravens season and their 6-5 record. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)

Haloti Ngata might assist his former team in another victory.

The former Ravens All-Pro defensive tackle has a torn biceps and won’t dress when the Ravens play his Detroit Lions teammates Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. Ngata, a 12-year veteran, went down with the injury in Game 5 against the Carolina Panthers.

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Before he was injured, the Lions allowed just 373 rushing yards over their first five games. They’ve allowed 905 rushing yards over the six games since without him which is why they’re ranked No. 24 in the NFL in run defense.

The Ravens are tied for 10th in rushing offense, which is why they will be happy to see Ngata, 33, on the sidelines rather than in the game.

“Yes, I am glad he is not playing,” said Ravens Pro Bowl rush linebacker Terrell Suggs, one of Ngata’s best friends. “I don’t want him to be hurt or anything like that, but everyone knows the force that No. 92 is. Hopefully, he makes the trip and I get to see him.”

Ngata, who is on injured reserve, travels with the Lions for every road game and he certainly wasn’t going to miss a trip to Baltimore. He spent nine seasons with the Ravens and was the team’s top draft pick out of Oregon in 2006, the 12th player selected overall.

He is revered in this city, like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Jonathan Ogden and Suggs. The Ravens name is synonymous with defense and no player was more symbolic of that than Ngata.

Ngata was huge (6 feet 4, 345 pounds), strong (bench-pressed over 500 pounds), nasty, ornery and mean. If you took a cheap shot at his teammate, he’d retaliate with one of his own. If you wanted to send a message of intimidation, he was the messenger.

He left a lasting impression in Baltimore, earning five Pro Bowl nods.

“I don’t know about that,” Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said of whether he wished Ngata were playing Sunday. “I saw him play here for many years and I remember my first minicamp here and what he was doing, so I don’t necessarily know if I wish for that.”

Ngata left a legacy off the field as well. Few players have given as much to charity as Ngata, who still frequently visits Baltimore with his wife, Christina, and gives to various hospitals, charter schools and high schools.

“Christina and Haloti were aware of the fact that many of the children attending YMCA preschool programs throughout Central Maryland are able to do so only because of the scholarship assistance that the Y provides to lower-income families,” said Jeff Sprinkle, the chief philanthropy officer of The Y in Central Maryland.

“Recognizing the need and realizing the impact they could have for families not as fortunate as themselves, they graciously agreed to be our campaign spokespersons on behalf of those in need for our 2014 annual campaign. They are lovely people with very big hearts.”

Part of the reason Baltimore is so special to them is that all three of Ngata’s sons were born here. Of course there were the relationships that were formed with former and current Ravens players that he keeps in contact with such as Edwin Mulitalo, Trevor Pryce, Justin Bannan, Jarret Johnson, Kelly Gregg, Suggs and Brandon Williams.

Ngata still remembers meeting Lewis, Reed and Suggs for the first time.

“We played great defense because we were always well prepared and our mindset was that we believed we were No. 1,” Ngata said. “We had the best defense and we showed it.

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“The first time I met Ray, I was starstruck. I loved the way all of them played, but Ed Reed was special. Suggs, I really didn’t like him at the beginning. He cost me a lot of money, especially in my rookie year when he made me pay for things like the speakers in the weight room at Western Maryland. I never thought that the most obnoxious player on the team would end up becoming my closest friend.”

When the Ravens traded Ngata to the Lions before the 2015 season, Suggs pouted. He had his own forms of protests, such as wearing Ngata T-shirts or armbands with Ngata’s number on them. What’s unusual about the two is that Ngata is quiet, private and introspective.

Suggs is loud, impulsive, a prankster and a showboat. When Ngata heard that Suggs flexed and posed for the cameras after his strip-sack Monday night instead of trying to find the ball, the defensive lineman started laughing.

“I could see that. It’s so him,” Ngata said. “You get used to him after a while, but we developed that chemistry off the field. He really has a big heart. He does a lot of things for others that people don’t know about because it’s not in the media. He is a great person, an interesting guy who is into so many things. I am not surprised by the season he is having.”

Suggs, 35, is in his 15th season, but Ngata has enjoyed similar longevity. There aren’t many defensive tackles who last 12 years, because they draw a lot of double teams. Versatility has been a strength, being able to play end, defensive tackle and nose tackle.

Ngata has 498 career tackles with six forced fumbles and five interceptions. He was looking forward to playing against old AFC rivals this season, but isn’t sure he’ll play again because his contract expires at the end of 2017.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell said there is only one Haloti Ngata and it’s hard to find an “exact” replacement. He also said Ngata had not spoken to him about his intentions, but both agreed the rehabilitation was going well.

“I thought playing against Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Cleveland would be fun, and against the Ravens made it more exciting,” Ngata said. “I am undecided right now about next season, but we’ll see in March. That’s when we’ll see what is going on, who is interested and who isn’t. I’m not sure about moving again. It might come down to which team wants me and where they are located. I definitely want to play, but let’s wait and see.”

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