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OWINGS MILLS — The earth didn’t shake as big Haloti Ngata didn’t record a tackle, collapse the pocket or make much noise in his NFL debut. Overall, though, the Baltimore Ravens’ heavyweight rookie defensive tackle felt encouraged about how he fared Thursday night in a 20-10 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Sidelined the previous week with a minor knee sprain, the 6-foot-4, 340-pound first-round draft pick had a quiet evening as he grappled with the Eagles’ veteran offensive line. He wasn’t a major factor against the run or pass.
“The game felt fast,” said Ngata, the 12th overall pick from Oregon. “The blockers were firing off the line fast. They were doing a quick offense and playing very fast. I had to kind of think about it when I need to be reacting.
“It’s an adjustment from college football. I’m anxious to see the film so I can see how I really did. I’m glad to have that game under my belt.”
Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was hoping to see a few one-on-one encounters between Ngata and Pro Bowl alternate offensive guard Shawn Andrews, but that never really materialized. “We never went head-to-head much, so it was a lot of me trying to go around him and shoot the gap,” Ngata said. “He’s a good player, so it was a nice test for me. My knee felt fine and I’m sure I’ll get better and better every week.”
EMERGING THREAT: It’s only the preseason, but Musa Smith has overshadowed veteran runners Jamal Lewis and Mike Anderson in a way that goes beyond his inspiring comeback story from a gruesome broken leg two years ago. Smith is running with outstanding body lean and power, flashing a bit of breakaway speed in the third quarter.
His 43-yard touchdown burst in the third quarter propelled him to a 55-yard outing on four carries. He also demonstrated his agility when he hurdled offensive tackle Adam Terry on a 36-yard screen pass that nearly went for a score.
A week ago, Smith led the Ravens in rushing with 61 yards on four carries and receptions with four. He has registered three of the Ravens’ four longest plays this month. “I’m just really trying to soak in every moment that I have since I’ve been given a second chance," Smith said. "When I was on the operating table, and I was told there was a 50-50 chance I could come back, I knew I had to set my mind on coming back. It’s been a long road and a lot of hard work, but it’s definitely paying off. The leg feels really good right now."
Drafted in the third round out of Georgia in 2003, the Ravens initially tabbed Smith as a future replacement for Lewis. However, his career was nearly ended in 2004 on Dallas Cowboys safety Roy Williams’ horse-collar tackle that caused a compound fracture of his tibia. Smith ended each of the past two seasons on injured reserve.
Lewis is entrenched as the starter and Anderson figures to be the primary backup, but Smith is projected to be the third-down back in addition to his special-teams responsibilities. "He’s practicing with such joy," Ravens coach Billick said. "He’s loving being out there, and he’s playing the same way. It’s great to see him having the success he deserves."
UNBOWED: One week after a stumbling, bumbling performance that appeared to confirm why he was benched in favor of Steve McNair, backup quarterback Kyle Boller redeemed himself. Not only did he endure being sacked five times because of the shortcomings of the reserve offensive line, but Boller appeared much more relaxed and fundamentally sound. “Kyle’s got a lot of things going on with the group he’s with,” Billick said. “He did some great things.”
The results were a 4-for-7 night for 115 yards and a 141.4 passer rating as Boller connected on a 42-yard completion to Devard Darling. He also delivered a 27-yard touchdown strike to Darling.
“I prepare like I’m the starter,” Boller said. “I have to be ready because you never know when you’re going to have to go in. That doesn’t change for me in the preseason.”
QUICK HITS: McNair, who wasn’t sacked last week, was sacked twice. One occurred when McNair got tangled up with center Mike Flynn and fell to the ground. The other happened when Eagles defensive end Jevon Kearse ran past right tackle Tony Pashos to force McNair to fumble. Pashos was also flagged for holding Kearse, and left tackle Adam Terry was penalized for a false start. “There are going to be growing pains,” offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo said. “It’s part of us getting used to Steve and him getting used to us." … Rookie wide receiver Demetrius Williams threw a key block on Smith’s screen pass. … Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards led Baltimore with a game-high six tackles. … Running back Mike Anderson was limited because of a sprained foot that isn’t regarded as serious. … Rookie punter Sam Koch averaged 39.8 yards on four punts as veteran Leo Araguz punted once for 42 yards.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.