When John Harbaugh was hired as head coach of the Baltimore Ravens in 2008, he immediately implemented a philosophy that has served as the team's core principle over the past several seasons.
"At the heart of football are three foundations. First is the TEAM, second is the TEAM, and TEAM is the team. We'll stick with that from beginning to end."
Haloti Ngata, now in his seventh season, is one of the most dominant defenders in the NFL. The three-time Pro Bowler, who was selected by NFL players as the league's ninth-best player in the 2011 Top 100 Poll (NFL Network), is a major contributor to Baltimore's stellar defense. Since his rookie year (2006), the Ravens have allowed 44 rushing touchdowns (second fewest in NFL - Pit.) and the league's third-fewest rushing yards per game (86.9).
What makes the 2012 Ravens TEAM special?
"We're a complete team. Our offense, from the first game, is showing that they're doing a lot of good things on the field, driving the ball. And our defense is going to be a good defense, like we've always been out there doing, and hopefully, we can just keep getting better and better as a unit. I think this is the most complete team I've been around since I've been here."
As the leader on the D-Line, what's your best piece of advice for your younger TEAMmates?
"Technique. One of the reasons I'm able to play the way I do is technique. Even though I might be stronger and faster than some guys, I think the reason I can do the things I do is because of technique. I learned that a lot from [former Ravens defensive tackle] Kelly Gregg. So hopefully those guys can look up to me and see that I'm using more technique than athletic ability."
What do your D-Line TEAMmates do off the field to help build camaraderie?
"We do a lot of things together – we just went to a crab shack together. We like to eat, so we're going to go eat, that's what we're going to do. We'll go out and eat, but then we'll also just chill at somebody's house, play games ... We just try to be together and get to know each other well. We start to learn about each other's families and start to actually care about each other. We'll do anything for each other."
What have your life lessons taught you about the importance of being a good TEAMmate?
"When you see a player going through something, and he's kind of keeping it to himself … That's what I did when both of my parents passed away. I never really leaned on anybody, until when I actually did, I saw that it helped me, mentally, and I was able to move on from it. Now when I see a player going through something, I go over and confront him and try to talk to him. I think it's great that I'm able to recognize it and try to help him, push him along."
As a family man, what will you teach your young sons about the word TEAM?
"I think you have to start with trust, really. I am trying to teach my boys about trust and being able to trust their abilities. At a young age, it's kind of hard to teach it, but as they get older and older, I think trust is probably going to be one of the biggest things I'll teach them about."
What is your favorite part about playing on a John Harbaugh-led TEAM?
"John Harbaugh is relentless. He's not going to back down from anybody, and he's going to go hard for our team. That's what's great about John. He's going to be relentless with everything he does in coaching us."
Who has been the most influential TEAMmate you've ever had?
"There have been a lot. But, probably Terrell Suggs. With the great player that he is, he's been through so much, even in the NFL. I've seen him overcome some obstacles in his life here. It just shows what kind of person he is. He's just a great leader, even though he doesn't show it as much as Ray [Lewis] and Ed [Reed], he's a guy that I've grown to love and trust. We're locker mates too, and we've grown a bond with each other. He's taught me a lot of things."
What is the best TEAM you have ever been on?
"Probably the 2006 Ravens – my rookie year. We had a lot of talent on that team. We only lost three games that year. I felt like we were going to go to the Super Bowl that year. We lost to the Colts, but that was one of the most talented teams I've ever been on."
Defensive Line Coach Clarence Brooks
What makes Haloti such a special player?
"Right off the bat, it's his obvious physical gifts, but he's also mentally, very much into the game. Always prepared, always works hard at it off the field and carries his off-the-field work on the field. That's one of the things he does as well as anybody."
What's one of his most memorable plays?
"A heck of a play that he made a few years ago – we were down in Houston. He's had a lot, but this was a very, very athletic play where he – they were in the shadow of their own goal-line – and he kind of tipped the ball and tapped it around, [then] intercepted it. For a guy, as big as he is, he was very nimble. All in one movement, he saw the pass coming, tipped the ball to himself, intercepted it, all in one movement."
What does he bring to the D-Line meeting room?
"He's got a great sense of humor. There's a lot of respect for him in that room, by the younger guys. They realize what they have and who he is. But, they also don't spare him if they have to make him the butt of their joke. He's kind of a calming … He doesn't say much, so when he talks, people listen, and they respect him for [that kind of leadership]."
Off the field, what is your favorite Haloti story?
"I love seeing him with his son, Sam. You've got great big Haloti, and then you've got little Sam. And Sam walks like him. When you see them walking down the hall together … As much as anything, as great a player he is, he's probably a better husband and father and friend. Haloti has a way of being, whoever it is on this team – the last practice squad guy or Ray [Lewis], 'Sizzle' [Terrell Suggs] and Ed [Reed], or Joe [Flacco], everybody knows him, everybody likes him. He's a friend to everybody – he really is. He can get along with any group of players on the team. It's a great attribute he has."
Three words to describe Haloti:
"Focused, competitive and caring."
Guard Bobbie Williams
You've been on the other side of the ball vs. Haloti, what makes him one of the NFL's best D-linemen?
"His strength, his speed – that combination right there – and his ability to get to the ball. When you know what you have, and you know how to put it together and use it, it's a hard combination to try to block and manage in the game for a consistent number of reps. And he wears down the opponent. So, not only is it a physical matchup that you have to prepare for, but you have to prepare for the mental part of it."
What are the issues he poses for offensive linemen?
"A guy like Haloti, if you don't have a stud guy at guard, then he definitely commands two people on your offensive line, which takes away from your ability to block the rest of the defense. It kind of leaves you at a handicap. You're in a hole right there. Just knowing that … How many times can you do that throughout the game and be successful? Tying up two guys on one guy, that tells you about what he's able to do … the havoc [he creates]."
Three words to describe Haloti:
"Powerful, force, and grace – he's got a tad bit of that, too."
Defensive End Pernell Mcphee
What makes Haloti a great TEAMmate?
"The way he handles every situation. He always stays composed, under control. He's always lifting guys up, no matter what the situation we're in – if it's on the field or off the field. He comes in every day with a great attitude, ready to go to work."
What have you learned from him, both on and off the field?
"He's a humble guy. He stays humble. He's been humble since I met him, and he goes out and competes every day."
What is one of the most memorable plays he's made?
"The first one that comes to mind is the one against Pittsburgh, where he busted through the line and tackled him [RB Rashard Mendenhall]. But I'll say on [the] Monday night [season opener]. We had just talked, and I said 'you're going to come scot-free,' and he came scot-free and made the play in the backfield."
Three words to describe Haloti:
"Healthy, hungry and humble."