Monday, September 12, 2011

Time To Re-Sign Haloti Ngata

One of the biggest stories of the Ravens offseason were the contract negotiations of Haloti Ngata.  The Ravens defensive tackle holds the team’s franchise tag this season and was frequently referred to by local and national media as a reason that Baltimore was unable to make a large free agent splash.  After week one, fans aren’t so worried about that anymore.
Ngata proved his worth once again with a dominant performance against the Ravens rival the Pittsburgh Steelers.  In Baltimore’s 35-7 win, Ngata came up with two fumbles and tipped a pass that resulted in an interception.  (It’s crazy to think that those turnovers were less than half of the defense’s total on the day!)
Ngata is a force on the Ravens defense.  Not only can he cause chaos to quarterbacks and running backs, but he also has the speed to catch guys in the middle of the field.  His size to speed ratio makes no sense, but it’s perfect for the Ravens d.
After the game, Ngata told Aaron Wilson that his contract status remains the same.  He said that he lets his agents handle the deal, “hopefully it will get done,” he said.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

So'oto, Lattimore Battle Way Onto Field

The position was new. The attitude, not so much.
Arms crossed, Vic So'oto stands at his locker. This 6-foot-3, 263-pound brick house of a man admits his temper is short. His patience runs low.
A tight end-turned-defensive end at Brigham Young, So'oto was converted to outside linebacker in the Green Bay Packers' 3-4 scheme. Management figured position coach Kevin Greene could never have too many fire-breathing pupils.
Yes, it's been a perfect fit.
"As a Polynesian, Samoan type of guy, cracking skulls comes naturally," So'oto said. "It's something you're born with."
One more game of "cracking skulls" is probably all So'oto needs to lock up a roster spot. Heading into Thursday's preseason finale against the Kansas City Chiefs at Lambeau Field, So'oto and fellow undrafted rookie Jamari Lattimore of Middle Tennessee State are positioned well. Both outside linebackers have grown up as quick as anyone on the team.
Good timing, too. Erik Walden ran away with the starting spot opposite Clay Matthews, but the backup slots at outside linebacker remain jumbled.
After suffering a broken shoulder blade, Frank Zombo's immediate future is uncertain. Brad Jones, expected to compete for a starting spot, hasn't stood out. And sixth-rounder Ricky Elmore never adapted.
Which leaves So'oto and Lattimore. They're cast in two completely different body types. So'oto is built like a security guard, Lattimore like he could double at safety. In a hurry, both matured from half-clueless rookies to contributors on the verge of cracking an NFL roster.
"I feel like everything is coming to a head," So'oto said. "This is the last game to prove myself. Hopefully I can do something that the coaches like and they'll want to keep me around."
Transitioning from a 4-3 end to a 3-4 outside linebacker runs deeper than X's and O's. Greene, a 15-year NFL veteran at the position, explains.
"It's always a vision thing," Greene said. "You go from having your hand in the dirt and looking straight ahead to standing up and actually having to acquire all of the eligibles and where they line up and what does that mean to you and your pass coverage."
So'oto relies on the darkness inside of him, his mean streak. Part of him wants to be a UFC fighter. He loves watching George St. Pierre and Rampage Jackson. His given name, Vitale Ta'aga Magauli So'oto, even has a cagefighting ring to it. So'oto knows his wife - the driving force behind him picking Green Bay over Arizona and Miami after the lockout - would not approve.
So football it is.
One ESPN article estimated that a Samoan boy is 40% more likely to reach the NFL than any other boy in America. So'oto has one theory. It's in his makeup to embrace contact, to be the aggressor.
The "warrior mentality" of the culture, So'oto says, dates back to when fossils from all over the world were found in Samoa.
"When you travel somewhere, and don't know someone else, you automatically fight," he said. "So it's fun to be from something like that . . . It's no-nonsense, short temper. You're happy-go-lucky until it's time to strap it up. That's just how I've always been."
Last weekend was So'oto's breakout performance. He has been assignment-sure in practice, rarely enveloped at the point of attack. Against the Colts, he beat starting right tackle Ryan Diem and forced a fumble that Green Bay recovered. Then, on a second-and-1 play in the fourth quarter, So'oto showed good instincts in immediately penetrating into the backfield to lasso running back Darren Evans.
"I'm a really laid-back guy until game time," So'oto said. "If I were to fight, it'd be totally different. It's football, just football."
Greene, by nature, is a fan.
"I hope I inspire all my kids to mix that (crap) up," Greene said. "We need to get up into peoples' grilles. Absolutely. Vic is passionate about the game. That's what I preach all the time. You have to love hitting people."
With Lattimore, textbook technique is imperative. The 2010 Sun Belt defensive player of the year relied on pure athleticism in college to total 68 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 11½ sacks and 10 quarterback hurries. In the pros, at 230 pounds, he's ultra light for the position.
As of now, Lattimore often takes on blockers 75 to 100 pounds heavier. Greene stresses, however, that Lattimore can overcome this discrepancy with the proper footwork and hand placement.
In his playing days, Greene's playing weight hovered in the 242-to-245-pound range. At one point, in a 4-3 scheme, he even dipped to 238 pounds. The plan with Lattimore is obviously to pack on weight. Today, 3-4 outside linebackers must play between 245 and 252 pounds, Greene said. The game has evolved.
It's difficult to pack on pounds during the 90-degree dog days of training camp. Soon, Lattimore will start a weight-gaining diet of some sort.
In the meantime, technique has helped him survive and thrive.
"Something I learned as a player was that no matter how big an opponent was, as long as I had good technique, I could defeat that opponent," Greene said. "Now (Lattimore) is playing a position that requires him to be a little heavier. He's light at 230, but with the right technique he can beat someone that's 330."
Added Lattimore, "With the right technique, you can do it all. Technique and fundamentals. Every day, nonstop."
And, Lattimore does have some experience at the position. As a kid, he always played as the Carolina Panthers on the video game, Madden. He'd toggle his controller to Kevin Greene and blitz off the edge. Little did Lattimore know that exact job would be his ticket to the NFL.
And Greene would be his coach.
"He knows what he's talking about and been in that position," Lattimore said. "I haven't told him I played as him. I don't want him to get big-headed."
Expect to see plenty of both rookies Thursday night. They've come a long ways. That first week of practice, Dom Capers' scheme was a maze of confusion. Offensive players motioned and Lattimore admits, on some plays, he had no idea what to do. Now Lattimore and So'oto are confident.
The preseason finale, they hope, serves as an exclamation point.
"Nothing's guaranteed," So'oto said. "I know that and everybody's been telling me that."