Minicamp, Day Two: Ngata's Weight-Bearing Dilemma
MINICAMP NOTES: PRACTICE REPORT; FLACCO'S BABY ON THE WAY
By Joe Platania
OWINGS MILLS -- This year, Haloti Ngata has more weight to bear than ever before, and he doesn't mind it one bit.
For one thing, the seventh-year defensive tackle has bulked back up to 345 pounds, a 10-pound increase, in order to maintain the strength and stamina that seemed to elude him during the second half of last year as he battled a deep thigh bruise, among other undisclosed ailments.
For another, the absence of linebacker Terrell Suggs means that Ngata will be faced with even more pressure to perform at the kind of level that had observers pinpointing him, not Suggs, as the league's possible Defensive Player of the Year in 2011.
This year, some have already suggested that it may indeed by Ngata's turn to win that coveted award, which would put him in the footsteps of linebacker Ray Lewis (who won it in 2000 and 2003), safety Ed Reed (2004) and Suggs (2011).
"That would be cool," Ngata said Wednesday. "It would be awesome to be Defensive Player of the Year. That would mean that I would have helped our team get to the Super Bowl.
"But it's something I'm not really thinking about. I just want to help our team win."
Few defenders did more than Ngata to help the Ravens get off to a great start last September.
During Week One against Pittsburgh, Ngata had four tackles, a pass breakup, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries during the Ravens' 35-7 rout of the division rival Steelers.
A week later, he contributed six tackles and a pass breakup during the Tennessee loss, and his fumble recovery and 28-yard touchdown the following week at St. Louis was his first career score and only the second defensive touchdown by a defensive lineman in Ravens history.
Ngata then recorded sacks during each of the next three games, a stretch that included an eight-tackle bonanza against a tough Houston Texans team. The win that week helped give the Ravens a home playoff game against the Texans, a contest they won.
But even though Ngata posted 11 tackles during the Seattle loss and twice took down San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith on Thanksgiving night, it was apparent that something wasn't right.
"These guys are never going to be 100 percent," head coach John Harbaugh said. "It's trench warfare. The opponents know Haloti, and he's going to be double-teamed all the time.
"But we were able to see Pernell McPhee put pressure on the quarterback and Paul Kruger move inside and (Terrence) Cody perform well in the run game."
Despite Ngata's teammates rising to the occasion, the Oregon product and 2006 first-round draft pick was disappointed with his play down the stretch.
"I didn't feel as powerful at the end of the season," Ngata said. "I didn't feel that strong. So, I got up on my weight a bit (this offseason) to get back some of that power. Being lighter, I lost some of that power."
Ngata is treading lightly at his new/old weight, even though he managed to win most of his minicamp battles with the Ravens' offensive tackle corps.
It certainly would have been interesting to see how the extra weight would have helped Ngata in a hand-to-hand battle with Bryant McKinnie, but the starting left tackle is going through some conditioning work off the field and will not get a chance to battle Ngata this week.
Still, Ngata can line up anywhere along the line, from inside at the nose to outside at the five-technique point (outside the shoulder of the offensive tackle), to wreak his havoc via exceptional footwork and hard-to-block quickness.
"I still feel the same," Ngata said. "But I'm not as winded. Playing at this weight, it's no problem."
Naturally, it shouldn't be a problem for Ngata to shoulder any weight -- or burden -- the coming season has in store for him.
JOEY P'S TRIVIA TIME: Today's question:
Using the listed weights of all 88 players on the official team roster issued as the mandatory minicamp began, which Raven is the lightest? Also, who is the heaviest on the team at this juncture?
The answer will be revealed at the bottom of today's entry.
ROSTER MOVES, BREAKDOWN: The Ravens were a little shorthanded as of Wednesday morning, as they released two players to fall to 88 bodies on the 90-man roster.
One player on each side of the ball was let go, with no new signings announced to replace them.
The wide receiver count fell to 11 as first-year man Rodney Bradley, a 2011 practice-squadder, was released. Bradley had been battling injuries this offseason and didn't get much of a chance to set himself apart from the crowd at the bottom of the depth chart.
Plus, inside linebacker Cody Glenn, acquired as an unrestricted free-agent signee from the Indianapolis Colts this offseason, was also sent packing.
With these latest transactions, the roster breakdown now looks like this:
Five quarterbacks, four running backs, two fullbacks, 11 receivers (six flankers, five split ends), 17 offensive linemen, five tight ends, 11 defensive linemen, 13 linebackers (six inside, seven outside), 15 defensive backs (eight corners, seven safeties), one punter, two kickers and two long snappers.
All told, there are 44 offensive players on the 90-man roster -- which does not include franchise-tagged running back Ray Rice -- and 39 defensive players, along with five specialists.
PRACTICE REPORT: Here are a few highlights of the Wednesday afternoon practice, the second of the team's three-workout mandatory minicamp:
- The shorts-and-shells session was again held outdoors, but under much sunnier skies and considerably cooler and breezier conditions than Tuesday's rain-soaked workout.
- Except for the addition of quarterback Joe Flacco (see "Oh, Baby!", below), the cast of absentees was the same as Tuesday's.
Not fully participating were wideouts David Reed (knee) and Tandon Doss (unknown), free safety Ed Reed (unexcused), cornerback Cary Williams (hip, was on field), running back Bernard Pierce (hamstring, hurt on Tuesday), linebacker Terrell Suggs (Achilles), offensive linemen Howard Barbieri (unknown) and Kelechi Osemele (unknown), center Matt Birk (leg surgery), left tackle Bryant McKinnie (conditioning) and defensive end Pernell McPhee (knee).
- Wideout Tommy Streeter, a sixth-round draft pick, aggressively went after several end-zone passes during the red-zone drill. After leaping over Chykie Brown for a touchdown, Streeter punted the ball over the kicking net; it proceeded to roll down the hill toward the trout pond situated at the far end of the complex.
- Quarterback Tyrod Taylor had a chance to find Torrey Smith deep after the receiver had beaten Corey Graham to the post. Even though the pass wobbled in the breeze, it was still thrown too far for the ex-Maryland Terrapin.
- Earlier, part-time officials on duty flagged Graham for mauling LaQuan Williams near the sideline. Later, fourth-round pick Christian Thompson tipped away a bullet pass for Williams down the seam.
- The interception/lateral of the day took place when Jimmy Smith picked off a sideline pass and later pitched it to Lardarius Webb.
- Ex-Florida quarterback John Brantley was very quick with his feet and decisive when throwing the ball.
- Guard Marshal Yanda showed great initiative and hustle when Graham intercepted a pass and ran it back downfield.
- During one-on-one coverage drills, rookie wideout Dorian Graham got corner Jordan Mabin completely turned around and was open for a catch.
- Tight end Dennis Pitta ran a seam route and managed to leap over Webb to catch a line-drive pass.
- Kickers Billy Cundiff and Justin Tucker were flawless when the field-goal block team was on the field. But during solo exercises, the breeze pushed several of Cundiff's long kicks wide.
- Backup tight end Bruce Figgins appeared to pull up with a foot injury after missing a pass route during individual drills.
- Harbaugh wore a black T-shirt with the words "4 Fights Per Day" on the front and "Us Vs. Them, Division From Within, Complacency, Fatigue" on the back. He said it was merely a way to face whatever obstacles that can come a team's way.
- Former Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar watched practice with former teammate and Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome.
Kosar and other ex-Browns and Ravens are in town for Wednesday night's farewell reception for retired trainer Bill Tessendorf, who spent more than three decades with the team, and soon-to-be-retired equipment manager Ed Carroll, on hand for 23 years.
OH, BABY!: A major story broke before Wednesday's practice: quarterback Joe Flacco had to hold himself out of workouts.
But, there are no worries on this front, because it has nothing to do with the protracted negotations towards an extended contract. Flacco is about to sign on for a long-term, no-cut, no-trade, incentive-laden deal of another kind.
Flacco's wife, Dana, was expected to give birth to the couple's first child on Saturday -- the day before Father's Day -- at the family home in New Jersey. But Flacco got a phone call early Wednesday morning and drove north immediately.
"I'm excited," Flacco told the Ravens' Web site Tuesday. "I can't wait. You never know when it's going to come. The last week felt like it took forever. But it will be here soon."
The Flaccos do not know the baby's gender and have reportedly not picked out a name. They will save that for after the birth.
Plus, given the nature of the Ravens-Steelers rivalry -- and that the two cities' baseball teams are playing each other this week -- it's worth pointing out that Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger got married around the same time Flacco did, and he recently announced that he and his wife will be expecting a baby early next year.
But the Flacco baby is coming first, and the quarterback is still mulling over the effects being a father will have on his life.
"It's pretty big," Flacco said. "I don't know if I really know the extent of it right now. I'll see how much my life changes."
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?: Is there really a difference between the organized team activity practices and the mandatory minicamp?
When it comes to those workouts, as opposed to training camp, how much of the playbook is truly installed and how much is held back until August? Plus, how does the routine -- a lost part of last year's lockout-riddled offseason -- affect the younger players?
"You install, and you probably (experiment)," head coach John Harbaugh said. "You are trying to find yourself as a team, what your guys do well, what they don't do well, what they do together.
"You start to get a feel for what direction you are going to go in all three phases, what you are going to be able to do really well."
With almost half the roster (40 players) not having been Ravens last year, most of them rookies and first-year players, the minicamp phase is their first real chance to see how a professional football team goes about its business.
"It's probably good for the rookies to see the thing operate a little more fully," Harbaugh said. "It's good to start to try to work the cohesiveness in. That's the main thing you try to do with this opportunity.
"... It's good to have everybody around. It's just practice. It's really not a lot different than it was a week ago or two weeks ago [in OTAs]. It's just another level of practice, of the process."
SEMINAL MOMENT: For intense football fans that can be prone to hyperbole at times, the Terrell Suggs injury has turned into one of those "where were you and what did you feel when you heard?" kind of moments.
For inside linebacker and teammate Ray Lewis, at least overtly, the news didn't seem to strike him as hard as it did many others.
"I don't think it's hard," Lewis said. "The first thing I told [majority owner] Steve [Bisciotti] and [head coach] John [Harbaugh] was, 'Before any great blessing, you're going to go through a storm.' That's just life.
"Every team is going to go through it, whether you go through it sooner or later. You look at the Super Bowl champs last year, the Giants, all the damages came at the beginning of the year, but everybody got healthy at the end of the year."
Speaking of healthy, the 37-year-old Lewis weighed in this year at a lean-looking 250 pounds after yet another rigorous offseason conditioning program.
"[The weight] just naturally comes off," he said. "... It's just naturally going to take care of itself, and that's been pretty much the course for me.
"... Anytime you come back in your 17th year, you kind of want to come back with a different mentality and different thinking."
Lewis said that with having to face fewer lead-blocking fullbacks in today's pass-oriented NFL, it was time to get leaner and acquire more speed.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Veteran receiver Anquan Boldin had a salient point to make when it came to offensive and defensive players working together within their units.
"This is a little different than being on defense," Boldin said. "You can have 10 guys mess up and one guy make a play, and the entire defense can look good, but it is just the opposite on offense.
"You can have 10 guys doing the right thing, and if one guy messes up, it makes the entire offense look shabby."
JOEY P'S TRIVIA TIME ANSWER: Here's the question we asked you earlier in the column:
Using the listed weights of all 90 players on the official team roster issued as the mandatory minicamp began, which Raven is the lightest? Also, who is the heaviest on the team at this juncture?
It would be an easy, stereotypical answer to say that a kicker or punter would be among the lightest members of any football team. But in the Ravens' case, you would be at least partially right.
Undrafted free-agent rookie kicker Justin Tucker (Texas), a long-range kicker brought in to give incumbent Billy Cundiff some competition, is one of two players who comes in at 180 pounds, a robust weight for many of us in the real world, but on the small side for one making a living among much larger men.
But Tucker shares the distinction of being the lightest Raven with undrafted rookie free-agent cornerback Jordan Mabin, also a 180-pounder.
At 5-foot-11, Mabin is just one inch shorter than Tucker, so their builds are somewhat similar. Mabin comes from Northwestern, a school with a great academic pedigree, which has had only occasional football success in the past.
As for the heaviest Raven, we're sure that many of the guesses would go in the direction of Bryant McKinnie, last year's starting left tackle who came over as a free agent from the Minnesota Vikings.
Indeed, the 6-foot-8 McKinnie does tip the scales at a team-high 360 pounds, a weight the Ravens' brass would probably like to see reduced through intensified conditioning drills throughout the summer.
Posted June 13, 2012