Haloti Ready for Prime Time

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Days after Haloti Ngata expressed his desire to nab his first sack of the season, the massive defensive tackle did just that, tossing Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russel for an 8-yard loss.

What does he have in store for Cleveland's Derek Anderson this weekend?

"Well, I still want to get a sack," Ngata said, before tipping his hat to linebacker Terrell Suggs' team-leading five sacks. "I'll go for two this week, maybe catch up to 'Sizz.'"

But Ngata's impact goes far beyond how he gets after the passer. In the midst of his third season, the former first-round draft pick is on pace for another stellar campaign.

With 34 tackles, he is the Ravens' fifth-best tackler. Ngata, 24, already has one interception, his second-career pick.

And what is most-telling, Baltimore's defense is firmly atop the NFL in run defense, only allowing 64.3 yards per game. The next-best unit belongs to the Minnesota Vikings, who give up an average of 70.7 yards.

Much of that advantage is a credit to the 6-foot-4, 345-pound Ngata.

"Haloti is one of those special ones," said linebacker Ray Lewis. "He has the perfect size; he has the perfect ability, man. He plays almost like a quick man. That's how good his feet are. In the years to come, that guy is going to be a great defensive tackle, if he's not already great. I just love his intensity.

"He loves the game of football, and I just think his upside is way bigger than anything he's already done so far."

Those may be big words from a nine-time Pro Bowler and likely Hall of Famer, but Lewis is just one Ravens defender that owes a debt of gratitude to Ngata's ability to take on one, two, or sometimes three blockers at a time.

With Ngata and fellow defensive tackle Justin Bannan clearing the field, Lewis already has 69 tackles on the season.

"We work to hold up guys for linebackers," Ngata said. "I want our linebackers making plays, because that means I'm doing my job. If the defensive tackles can hold up a double-team, we know Bart [Scott] and Ray are going to make the tackle."

When he first broke into the league in 2006 as the 12th-overall selection, the Oregon product admits that he got by on sheer physical ability. He learned about being a professional from fellow defensive linemen Trevor Pryce and Kelly Gregg.

"I relied a lot on the veterans here in the locker room about how to prepare and be a pro on and off the field," Ngata said. "I was looking towards Trevor and Kelly to see what they do. I was lucky to have Kelly around my rookie year and last year, because I could learn how to play the run from the best. And then with Trevor, he helped me learn how to rush the pass.

"I was just trying to hold on because a lot of things were coming at me fast."

Judging by the way he's dominating the point of attack in his third season, Ngata is a quick study. Long film sessions are a daily part of Ngata's routine, as he makes sure he knows the responsibilities of his teammates, and not just his own.

"For me, I can study what everyone's doing, not just the linemen," Ngata explained. "The offensive linemen were what I originally looked at, too, but now I'm watching the backfield. For us, I understand more about why we're doing all the different things we do. Film has become a big tool for me."

Coming out of school, some analysts said that Ngata took plays off, but that hasn't shown at all to his current teammates.

When asked about such a notion, Lewis immediately scoffed.

"Never, never," is all he said.

"I'm just letting my game speak for itself," stated Ngata. "Anybody can say what they want, but it's only going to affect me if I listen. I'm not going to do that and just continue to work hard. I'm the only person that can slow me down."

Ngata's opponents certainly respect him. Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas, with whom Ngata got into a shoving match last year, said he'll have an eye on No. 92 this Sunday, when the AFC North rivals face off in Cleveland Browns Stadium.

"He's a great player," Thomas commented. "He's one of the best defensive tackles in the league. He brings a great combination of speed, strength and power, and he's a guy you have to game-plan around."

The Ravens' offense has even acquired Ngata's services. In a 29-10 win over the Oakland Raiders last week, he cleared the way for running back Willis McGahee's touchdown with a devastating block at tight end.

Baltimore even has plays drawn up for Ngata to carry the ball as a bulldozing fullback.

"I'm calling for the ball every day," he said with a smile. "I love it. But, the last time I carried the ball was high school, when I played fullback, offensive line and tight end. That was a long time ago."

It hasn't been long since his name was called on that April draft day three years ago, but Ngata could already be sniffing his first Pro Bowl if he continues his all-star output.

"There's no reason he can't," said defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. "Haloti is one of the premier defensive tackles in this game. You know, every guy around the league knows the kind of player he is, but he's still got that drive. He wants to do better, wants to elevate his game more. That's great for us."

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