Ravens land Ngata

OWINGS MILLS -- In a nod to their major need for a beefy presence in the middle that used to define a gritty defense, the Baltimore Ravens were unwilling to risk losing Oregon junior defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.

That desire for the 6-foot-4, 340-pound consensus All-American was coupled with the Ravens' fear that they could be trumped by Browns general manager Phil Savage, a former Ravens executive. A trade scenario broached early Saturday morning by Savage ultimately led to the first swap ever between Baltimore and Cleveland as they switched places in the first round.

Baltimore drafted the Pac 10 Co-Defensive Player of the Year with the Browns' original 12th overall pick, exchanging the 13th selection and a sixth-rounder (181st overall). Savage wound up with the Florida State pass rusher he wanted all along: Kamerion Wimbley.

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

Drafting Ngata fills the gaping hole created by 350-pound nose guard Maake Kemeoatu defecting to the Carolina Panthers, and it might have a soothing effect on disgruntled All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis.

Lewis griped recently about a lack of bulk at defensive tackle, a formula Baltimore once rode to a Super Bowl title behind massive linemen Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa. The Ravens insisted that his complaints were a non-factor in drafting Ngata, who fell to them in a manner reminiscent of how they acquired Mark Clayton, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and Todd Heap.

"You know Ray will be happy when we win because that's when I'll be happy, too," said general manager Ozzie Newsome, who ranked Ngata over Florida State's pass-rushing defensive lineman Brodrick Bunkley. "If Ray would have known Haloti, we would have used that, but it had nothing to do with that. ..

"He's a big man that can move. He fits us very well, so, to me, it eliminated the risk of anybody else moving up or Phil taking himself, which I don't know if he would have or not."

Newsome said that he had arranged a specific time to call Savage if he wanted to make the trade. Once that time elapsed, the Ravens' draft room phone rang and it was Savage on the line.

Beyond Newsome and Savage's relationship, the Ravens received assistance from the Oakland Raiders drafting Texas safety Mike Huff and the Buffalo Bills' surprising choice of Ohio State safety Donte Whitner.

"Things started to fall into place," Newsome said.

Despite enduring triple-team blocking attention, Ngata recorded 151 career tackles, 10 sacks and 24 ½ tackles for losses. He also blocked seven kicks.

"I really wanted to come to Baltimore, especially because they are a defensive team," Ngata said in a conference call from Las Vegas. "I am very excited to play next to Ray Lewis."

Ngata bench pressed 225 pounds for 37 repetitions at the scouting combine and ran the 40-yard dash in 5.16 seconds. He overcame a torn anterior cruciate ligament early in his career.

A devout, soft-spoken Mormon, the Salt Lake City native said he transforms his mentality when he's playing football.

"I release a lot of anger and stress out on the field just because I am a mellow kind of guy," Ngata said. "I love this game so much that it really doesn't take much for me to turn on that switch."

However, questions have been raised about Ngata's conditioning and intensity. ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth immediately lambasted Ngata in colorful fashion.

"He's on the ground more than grass," Schlereth said. "I don't like this pick. You can't be taking a nap on the field. You can't be taking plays off like he does."

Newsome countered, noting that Siragusa and Adams were often accused of taking plays off. Ngata played 15 plays a game on special teams and rarely left the field, according to DeCosta.

"I think I need to work a lot on my technique, being more consistent and playing hard all the time and not just when I want to," Ngata admitted.
Nose guards tend to have beefy physiques and rarely have flashy statistics. When it was suggested that Ngata might be overweight, it drew a sharp response.

"I don't care if he weighs 480 if teams are averaging two yards a carry and we get back to that defense we had in 2000," DeCosta said. "That's what we expect him to do for us."

Newsome said there was no comparison between Ngata and Kemeoatu, a fellow Polynesian who went undrafted out of Utah and developed in four seasons to the point where Carolina paid him $23 million to leave Baltimore.

"Haloti was the 12th pick and Kemo was an undrafted free agent, so that says a whole lot," Newsome said. "He's better athletically than Kemo."

Three weeks after Ngata declared for the draft in January, (citing health and financial concerns for his family) his mother, Olga Ngata, died of kidney failure. She had battled diabetes for several years. His father, Solomone Ngata, died in a trucking accident four years ago.

"It will be the first time I will not be playing in front of my mom and dad together, physically, but I know they are going to be there spiritually," Ngata said. "That is just going to bring a lot more fire and desire to my game."

Aaron Wilson writes for Ravens Insider and the Carroll County Times.

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