Scouts, Inc. ranked Haloti Ngata as the 2006 NFL Draft’s eighth best player. In nearly every mock draft that I looked at, more of them than I care to admit, Ngata was no worse than the No. 13 pick and usually he ended up between the 10th and 12th picks.
Why then was ESPN’s Mark Schlereth ready to pounce upon and rip the selection of Ngata at No. 12?
This wasn’t an attack on the Ravens as much as it was an attack on Ngata. Schlereth was prepared to unleash a venomous bite no matter who Ngata’s suitor was. Schlereth supported his attack with carefully selected footage of Ngata being pushed off the ball. He used it as evidence to support his claim that Ngata “take plays off.” He questioned Ngata’s work ethic on the field and in essence, he questioned the man’s character.
No worries Baltimore, Schlereth is wrong – dead wrong!
If he wanted to offer a counterpoint to Schlereth’s overly dramatic explanation, Mel Kiper could have collected even more compelling footage to support the Ravens’ pick and their belief in Ngata. This is a player who was nearly always double teamed and sometimes triple teamed. He wasn’t part of a defensive rotation. Quite the contrary! Ngata played on special teams as well, carrying around his large 340 pound frame through lines to block 7 kicks in his three years at Oregon. Once after Ngata blocked a punt, the punter caught the carom and Ngata chased him 15 yards to make the tackle.
When asked how he was so adept at blocking kicks Ngata explained that kicks typically take 3 seconds to get off and then, “I press as hard as I can for 2 seconds and jump.”
Do you think Sam Adams took plays off? How about Tony Siragusa? Don’t you think that Ngata will benefit from the Ravens rotational system and sub packages that probably won’t require him to play on obvious passing downs?
Think he’ll face constant double and sometimes triple teaming that might wear him down the way it did in college? Probably not but if he does, that means Ray Lewis is making more tackles close to the line of scrimmage and it means that quarterbacks are not stepping up into the pocket the way they have over the past few years and Suggs, Cody, Pryce and AD are all grinning.
Grinning wasn’t a common occurrence for Ngata beginning late in 2002.
As an 18 year old student after his freshman season as a Duck, Ngata lost his father in a tragic motor vehicle accident. Then during his sophomore season opener, Ngata tore his ACL and missed the entire 2003 season. In 2004 it took Ngata about half the season to regain the strength in his knee while still battling a heavy heart. "I didn’t handle that as well as I should have," he said. "Mentally, I went downhill."
Mix in the affects of his ailing mother, the constant attention from offensive linemen, his every down role on the team, 340 pounds and the warm climates of Arizona and California, even a high motor like Michael McCrary’s could use some mild pacing every now and then.
Ngata decided to leave school a year early to help with his mom’s medical bills stemming from diabetes and kidney failure and to assist his three brothers and one sister whose ages range from 18 to 26. Shortly after committing his future to the NFL, Ngata’s mom passed away unexpectedly.
Haloti Ngata is a man who is now at peace with the passing of his parents. He is a man who isn’t driven by material things. After all, he drives a 16 year old vehicle and up until Saturday, he did not own a suit. Even then the suit was given to him specifically for his introductory press conference.
What does drive Ngata is a love of family as well as religious and spiritual convictions. He wants to succeed to help his siblings and he’s dedicated his rookie season to the memory of his parents who he knows “are watching from above.”
As Ngata prepares to move across country from his home in Salt Lake City, he’ll be bringing along his high school coach Larry Wilson who will live with him and in many ways has been a father figure to Ngata. Wilson once coached with Jim Fassel.
Despite walking through a darkness that many of us can’t imagine, Ngata has persevered. He’s mature beyond his years, he is at peace and is motivated to do well not purely for money, but for the love of his family and what it might afford them.
And of course there’s the memory of his parents.
Maybe Schlereth didn’t think it through when he not so subtly labeled Ngata as lazy. Maybe he didn’t care and wanted the attention afforded him by the sensationalism.
Maybe Schlereth should just shut up!
It sure will be fun watching Haloti making this Broncos’ apologist eat his words – words that by draft day 2007 will mean nada.