The Ravens have made an effort this offseason to upgrade the defensive line.
Adding free agents Chris Canty and Marcus Spears gives the Ravens some proven veterans that will allow them to mix up their rotations along the line, and should also create some opportunities to get creative with how they use Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
"Our bell cow in there is Haloti," Head Coach John Harbaugh said Tuesday. "He's our best player inside, he's probably the best [interior] player in the National Football League. I know Haloti is really, really motivated to have a great year."
Ngata, 6-foot-4, 330 pounds, has the ability to line up over the center and can also slide outside to match up between the guard and tackle. He's big enough to eat up blocks and stuff the run, and is athletic enough to overpower offensive linemen on the edge.
With Canty and Spears now in the mix – along with Arthur Jones, Pernell McPhee, Terrence Cody and DeAngelo Tyson – the Ravens can play with a variety of sets to exploit the mismatches Ngata creates.
"We've played him everywhere pretty much and it's been more based on what we've needed to do based on the offensive line that we're going against or our situation personnel-wise," Harbaugh said. "But the fact that we've added two guys that can play defensive end definitely marks the possibility he could play inside more."
Spears and Canty both fit as traditional defensive ends in the Ravens' 3-4 scheme, but Harbaugh and General Manager Ozzie Newsome both said that the versatility of the recent acquisitions was part of their appeal.
They have the ability to play inside and outside, and on both sides of the ball, which can confuse offenses and allow Ngata to disrupt plays up the middle.
"They move guys around a lot," Spears said. "I know they try to give Ngata a lot of matchups, try to expose guys on offense through him, so you have to be flexible. And I think that's what gives us a great chance to be good up front, is that a lot of guys can play a lot of different positions."
Ngata, 29, is coming off a fairly disappointing season where he battled through injuries and spent most of the time playing at less than 100 percent. He admitted that the injuries limited his explosion and dominance inside, and his struggles were part of the reason the Ravens finished the year uncharacteristically ranked 20th against the run.
Ngata did still finish the year with 51 tackles and five sacks, and was selected to his fourth-straight Pro Bowl.
Adding reinforcements to the defensive front will allow the Ravens to rotate Ngata more frequently to keep him healthy, and Harbaugh is optimistic that could lead to a big season for the eight-year veteran.
"I've had conversations with him and he's looking forward to next year," Harbaugh said. "He's going to be a great player for us. Adding those guys and putting the pieces around him is a huge part of what we're doing."