Haloti Ngata knew that more pressure would fall on him this season.
He was entering the second year of a $61 million contract. Terrell Suggs was hurt. Jarret Johnson and Cory Redding were both gone.
Even Owner Steve Bisciotti said before the season that "Maybe it's Haloti's time this year" to be the fourth Ravens player to win Defensive Player of the Year.
Ngata hasn't disappointed in the early part of the 2012 season.
Through the first three games, Ngata has notched 16 tackles and 2.5 sacks and is gaining recognition **as an early candidate** in the defensive MVP talk.
"He's a guy that we expect to play at the highest level; he's a guy that we need to play at the highest level, and Haloti's doing that," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.
The three-time Pro Bowler isn't getting caught up in the chatter about personal accolades this early in the year.
"It's definitely an honor that people are considering me, but if it doesn't help us win games then it doesn't mean anything," Ngata said. "That's all I'm really focused on is trying to help the team win."
As he's done the last few seasons, Ngata anchors the Ravens' defensive front. He's gobbling up blockers and still putting up big numbers. If Ngata keeps up his current pace for 16 games, which would amount to 85 tackles and 13 sacks, then he would be in store for the biggest season of his seven-year career.
"I definitely want to get better stats than I had last year, but whatever I can do to make the team win is more important," Ngata said.
Ngata also jumped out to a strong start last season, but faded a little down the stretch and admitted that the season took a toll on his body. To avoid that problem this year, Ngata bulked up, adding about 10 pounds.
He's already noticing the difference.
"I feel the power, I definitely feel the power," Ngata said. "I'm pushing back the linemen more and able to get knockbacks."
The added weight hasn't appeared to slow him down. Ngata showed off his speed and versatility in Sunday's win over the Patriots, as he chased down wide receiver Wes Welker in the secondary on one play and also fought through two blockers to bring down quarterback Tom Brady for a sack.
Getting double-teamed is routine for Ngata, but he acknowledged that he's seeing some differences in how teams are defending him this year without Suggs lined up next to him.
"A little bit," Ngata said when asked if teams are playing him different. "I think it's because we don't have the guys like Terrell Suggs, Jarret Johnson and those guys, so it's been a little different. Our guys have been stepping up. Upshaw is doing a great job, Paul Kruger, Pernell McPhee. It opens up more chances for them to make plays so it's good that way.
"I've just always been double teamed," he said. "I'm not seeing more, I've just always had it. If I'm getting double teamed hopefully someone else makes a play."
The soft spoken Ngata is quick to brush off the attention he's getting for his start to the season, and says that the next step for his career isn't necessarily bringing home an MVP trophy, but becoming more of a vocal leader for the young players in the Ravens locker room.
"I think my game is what it is, I don't know if I can change much," Ngata said. "I'm always trying to improve, but I think I can improve more on just trying to be more of that vocal leader."