Ngata hits camp with an impact

WESTMINSTER - The linebackers and safeties were belting out defensive signals that were akin to a foreign language to rookie defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Rather than try to interpret what they were saying and overcomplicate his training camp debut with the Baltimore Ravens after ending a one-day holdout by signing a five-year, $11.9 million contract, the massive lineman made a wise decision.

Instead of trying to decipher what he didn't understand, the 6-foot-4, 340-pound former Oregon star relied on brute force and quick feet that are uncommon for a player of his dimensions.

During his first action with the starting defense, Ngata demonstrated why the Ravens drafted him with the 12th overall selection. He promptly collapsed the pocket with a mighty bull rush to force an incompletion.

"I just had kind of a rush because I didn't know what to expect, how fast to go and what the guys were doing, so I was just playing along," Ngata said. "Once I felt it, I just let it loose.

"I just kind of went straight. Hopefully, it was the right thing. Even though I was a day late, I wanted to get right into the groove."

During drills with defensive line coach Clarence Brooks, Ngata showed his zest in wanting to make up for lost time.

He batted the football so hard in a fumble-stripping drill that he was the only lineman to pop the ball out of the large hands of coaching intern Bernardo Harris, a former Ravens and Green Bay Packers linebacker.

Ngata also appeared fit and fluid during a sweltering day in Carroll County.

"There's a lot of big meat in the middle here!" said wide receiver Derrick Mason, mugging for the cameras behind Ngata during interviews.

Ngata passed his physical Saturday, signed his contract and hit the field after being walked down the winding path to Bair Stadium by middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

Ngata, whose contract has a maximum value of $14 million, quickly got acquainted with Lewis after a missed telephone call during his negotiations.

"He asked me why I didn't call him back when he called me," said Ngata, who was drafted to keep blockers off Lewis' body. "I was like, ‘I didn't know if you wanted me to bother you, Mr. Lewis.'"

Ngata's holdout nearly lasted much longer as he was scheduled to fly back to Utah if his deal hadn't been struck Friday. After some struggles at finding a common ground because of the perceived below-market value deal signed by No. 13 overall pick Kamerion Wimbley, Ngata agreed to terms.

He didn't want to miss any more time after not being able to attend any of the full-team minicamps because of an NFL rule barring rookies from participating in more than one camp until school is concluded.

"I just wanted to play football, and that's what I'm built for," said Ngata, who was accompanied by his aunt and uncle to practice. "I'm just happy that that's all over and I can just focus on football now."

One of the primary reasons the Ravens drafted Ngata was to strengthen their run defense. The Ravens haven't ranked among the top five run defenses in the league since 2001.

"You put a first-round draft choice, a top-15 draft choice and you have expectations," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We have those expectations."

In three seasons at Oregon, Ngata emerged as the Co-Pac 10 Defensive Player of the Year and registered 151 career tackles, 10 sacks, three forced fumbles and a school-record seven blocked kicks.

He'll become an instant starter on the defensive line next to nose guard Kelly Gregg. Yet, that might not have happened right away if his holdout had dragged on too long.

"It helps him a huge amount because now we'll be throwing him right in there with the first defense and let him roll," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "If he would have been a long holdout, he might not have been given that opportunity.

"He adds to us. He's a big body that's going to learn from a great player like Kelly Gregg. Hopefully, by the end of the year this guy will really be something."

Besides being a newly-minted millionaire who will be in heavy demand by teammates to pick up the check at expensive steakhouses, Ngata is also a gigantic potential target for hazing.

"I'm just waiting for something to happen," Ngata said.

Will Ngata receive the royal hazing treatment from veterans? Or is he simply too big to be taped to the goalposts and doused with Gatorade and shaving cream?

"He's big, so I don't know hw much hazing there will be for him," Ryan said. "It will be hazing with a lot of people, maybe not just one-on-one."

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

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