Haloti Ngata became an NFL star and Super Bowl champion during his nine years with the Ravens. Now the 31-year-old defensive tackle is in Detroit, where he’s adapting to new teammates, a new defense and new techniques
For nine years, Haloti Ngata was an anchor of the Baltimore Ravens defense from his nose tackle position. But after the offseason dominoes fell—1) no progress on a new contract with the Ravens; 2) Ndamukong Suh leaving Detroit to sign with the Dolphins; 3) the Lions trading for Ngata—he was left in an unfamiliar spot. At age 31, he is learning a new team, a new defense and new techniques. Ngata plans to spend most of the weeks before training camp back home in Utah, training for his new role and figuring out what weight bests suits it. Before leaving Detroit for the summer, Ngata talked to The MMQB about what it’s like for a veteran, and five-time Pro Bowler, to start over late in his career.
VRENTAS: After being a fixture on the Ravens for so long, how different is it to spend your offseason learning a new team and a new defense?
NGATA: The guys have been real good to me. They’ve taken me in, and it’s been pretty fun. It’s definitely weird playing in different colors, but now I’m getting used to it, and I’m starting to like it a lot.
VRENTAS: How differently will you be used in Detroit vs. Baltimore?
NGATA: A lot of it is just changing the technique. We’re pretty much going to use me the same way, but it’s just getting the different technique down. In Baltimore, we read a lot, reading the offensive linemen. Here we just attack more.
VRENTAS: How do you retrain yourself to do that?
NGATA: I’m not reading offensive linemen as often anymore. I’m not mirror-stepping with them; I’m not two-gapping as much. It’s basically trying to teach a new guy new technique. So it’s been different. Right now, it feels pretty good and hopefully I can get better and better in it.
VRENTAS: In Detroit, you’re the guy who will be replacing Suh. Back in Baltimore, they’re trying to replace you. Is it weird to be on the other side?
NGATA: That’s what people are just going to say. Going from one great player to another, people are automatically just going to say it. For me, I just think we’re totally different players. We’ve always been. He’s made Pro Bowls, and I have, too. Hopefully I can continue to help this team win.
VRENTAS: Will you be used in a similar way to how he was used in the Lions defense?
NGATA: They’re going to see how I play. We’re definitely just different body types. I weigh a little bit more than he does, and so we’re just going to have to roll with whatever happens in the season.
VRENTAS: You and Jim Caldwell won a Super Bowl together with the 2012 Ravens. Did you know each other well in Baltimore?
NGATA: He was more on the offensive side, but he’s a great guy to talk to. He has a lot of knowledge, not only about football, but talking about family and religion and community. It was a great relationship in Baltimore, and it’s continuing here.
VRENTAS: What’s it like to be traded after nine years with one team?
NGATA: It’s different. You get used to being in one city, and you grow to love some of the people in the community and doing community work. Then you get traded, and you’re starting all over again, but as a veteran. But the guys are really open to having me in the locker room.
VRENTAS: What about the other side of it—uprooting your family?
NGATA: It’s really unfair for families. For players, it’s totally easy. You have friends automatically because you are going through so much together on the field and in meeting rooms. For your wife and kids, they’ve gotta find new friends, new schools, a new place to work out, a new shopping place. It’s a new everything for them. For me, I just go to work and come back home. It’s easy. I think it’s really tough on the family. I’m just blessed that I’m able to have a great wife and kids that are willing to do it for me.
VRENTAS: How did you break the news to your three sons?
NGATA: My two younger ones are little so they didn’t really know. But my oldest one is really excited. He really loves the color blue. So he was happy I was going to a team that had blue as one of its colors.
VRENTAS: Was making sure your family got settled part of the reason you missed some voluntary OTA practices this spring?
NGATA: That, and moving at the same time. We had a lot of our stuff moved out to Salt Lake City where our home is, and we had to decide what’s moving, and what’s not, and what’s coming to Detroit. That made the whole thing long, and with the kids being in school, it took longer. I’m never home during the season, so I’m just trying to get that time together and helping my wife as much as I can.
VRENTAS: Are you at peace with the way things ended in Baltimore?
NGATA: Oh definitely. I can’t thank Baltimore and Steve Bisciotti and Ozzie Newsome enough for the opportunity they gave me. It was a business decision, they had to do what they had to do, and I did what I had to do, and we had a trade. I can’t be any more appreciative. They provided me and my family with so much and gave me the opportunity to play the game of football. Hopefully I can do the same thing here in Detroit and make these people and fans proud.
VRENTAS: Was the possibility of a trade on your radar going into the offseason?
NGATA: It wasn’t early in the offseason. But the closer we got to free agency, I thought it could be a possibility. It didn’t surprise me, but it definitely surprised a lot of my family friends. But since we weren’t getting closer to any kind of contract stuff, I just figured there were a lot of things that could happen. I definitely started to have a trade in my mind as a possibility.
VRENTAS: You’re on the final year of your contract and were seeking an extension in Baltimore. Is getting an extension done with Detroit a priority?
NGATA: I really haven’t thought about that much. I’m just trying to get to know my teammates, get my playbook down, and my technique and terminology.
VRENTAS: Is reinventing your style of play late in your career good or bad?
NGATA: It definitely has changed my technique. But whatever they need me to do. It’s been pretty fun so far. I’m not going to fight the coaches on how to do certain things because they’ve done so many good things with the defense this past year. I’m just rolling with it.
VRENTAS: The Lions defense is coming off a strong year. How would you describe their style of play compared to what you were used to in Baltimore?
NGATA: They attack and are relentless. Watching some old film and watching the guys this year in OTAs, they just really attack guys. It’s fun to be a part of it.
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