OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Haloti Ngata was extremely effective last season as a 350-pound wrecking ball in the middle of the Baltimore Ravens' esteemed defensive line.
Ngata finished with 65 tackles, ranked second on the team with a career-high 5.5 sacks, was named to the AP All-Pro team and earned a second straight Pro Bowl berth.
But he wasn't satisfied. So Ngata cut fast food out of his diet and ramped up his training regimen during the NFL lockout.
The result: He's 20 pounds lighter and is running through drills at training camp with a bounce in his step.
"I lost the weight basically just to see how I felt during the season and see how it would affect me towards the end of the season," Ngata said. "I felt like last year I was kind of getting a little worn down just having so much weight on, and I just wanted to see how it felt this year."
His next objective is to shed the franchise tag the Ravens foisted upon him in February.
"As long as I can get that long-term contract, that's what I am really trying to shoot for," Ngata said.
The Ravens have no intention of letting him get away. Since coming to Baltimore as the 12th overall pick in the 2006 draft, Ngata has missed only two games in five seasons. Linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed might get more acclaim, but Ngata's contribution makes him truly worthy of the franchise tag.
"We will keep our fingers crossed that he is doing it as a Raven for many years to come," coach John Harbaugh said. "He is just a tremendous leader. He has a great demeanor. He works really hard. I think he loves football. He doesn't mind being out here working, so the sky is the limit."
Even at a relatively svelte 330 pounds.
"I don't think he is going to lose any power at all," Harbaugh said. "To me, he is going to be just as powerful, just as explosive, and then maybe a little bit quicker. You can tell he is in great shape, so he should be able to play harder and longer, and that means more plays."
Ngata's weight loss can be attributed mainly to desire and the NFL lockout. Under normal circumstances, he would venture back and forth from his Utah home to Baltimore for offseason training activities. Instead, he stayed put.
"When I come back out here, I'm eating out more instead of staying home because I am not going to go out and grocery shop and cook for myself," he said. "Out there, I just had a steady diet and a steady workout routine."
With Ngata leading the way, Baltimore ranked fifth in the NFL against the rush last season. But only three NFL teams had fewer sacks, and Ngata hopes his thinner frame will make a difference in 2011.
"I think I'm OK with the run, but I'd like to be able to help out more with rushing the passer, especially because we have Terrell Suggs, who everybody is always keying on," he said. "So, if I can help him out as much as I can by rushing the passer better and making that part of my game better, I think we will get a lot more sacks."
Ngata acknowledged that he took a bit of a risk in dropping the weight, given how productive he was at 350 pounds.
"I feel good, and now I'm just trying to see how it feels throughout camp and the beginning of the season and see what I want to do with the weight," he said. "I can gain weight so easy. Keeping the weight down or losing the weight is a lot tougher for me. If I do gain weight, hopefully I can gain it in a healthier way instead of getting chubby."
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