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In the days after the Ravens lost to New England in the AFC championship, Pro Bowl defensive lineman Haloti Ngata needed time away from football.
Not only was he beat up physically, but the mental toll of losing the game was crushing.
“That game definitely took a lot of emotion out of me,” Ngata said Monday at the team’s facility. “I just took a full month off. It felt good to just kind of get some rest and get my mind right.”
Ngata was exhausted from the season, where he started all 18 games (16 regular season and two playoff games) and played through pain at the end of the year.
“This year was probably the hardest, the worst I’ve felt at the end of the season,” he said. “We went further and I think I played more snaps this year than other years. This past season took a lot out of me. And that loss just kind of sucked, so it took a little bit more.”
Despite the injury, he still had a highly productive season, as he earned his third straight Pro Bowl nod and was a leader in the middle of a Ravens defense that finished second in the league against the run. He totaled 65 tackles, five sacks and three fumble recoveries throughout the season.
After taking time to recover, Ngata is now gearing up for this seventh NFL season.
“I feel really good,” he said. “I’m just training and trying to eat healthy, communicating with the coaches.”
Part of Ngata’s goal for the offseason is to add some weight. He played at about 330 pounds last year, but would like to be closer to 340 pounds for this season.
“I think I could probably push the pocket better with a little more weight,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
Ngata has primarily been training in his offseason home of Salt Lake City, but he decided to come to the team’s facility in Owings Mills this week to work out and visit with the coaching staff.
He also spent time talking with teammates and meeting some of the new rookies on the roster.
“I just wanted to come in for a week to see the coaches and let them see me, let them know I’ve been working out,” he said. “There’s a lot of new faces that you’ve got to get to know now. It’s fun to see the rookies wide eyed and excited, but also kind of nervous.”
One of the big changes for the Ravens defense this season will be the potential absence of reigning Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs, who had surgery last week to repair an Achilles tendon injury.
Ngata has played next to Suggs for his entire six-year career, and while the Ravens still hope Suggs can return this year, replacing him for any amount of time will be no easy task.
“Suggs is irreplaceable,” Ngata said “There’s no one in this world that can replace Terrell. But I think Coach Harbaugh said it best: the next guy up has to do his best to replace him.
“I think we’re always going to be a great defense. A lot of it has to do with the veterans helping out the rookies as much as they can, and the rookies doing their best trying to fill in that spot. I think we have a lot of guys that could do well. We’ll see what goes on during camp.”
Regardless of whether Suggs returns this season, Ngata still has Super Bowl aspirations, and hopes to avoid the feeling that soured the end of last year.
“Hopefully we can get back to the AFC championship again and this time get to the Super Bowl,” he said.