BEREA - Baltimore Ravens nose tackle Haloti Ngata is known as arguably the premier one-gap defensive tackle in the NFL.
Ngata is also one of the smoothest talkers in the league. He knows how to say all the right things about an opposing player he's about to face.
Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium there will be times when Ngata and Browns center Alex Mack will bump heads. In Ngata's estimation, Mack presents a challenge beyond the skill level of most other centers.
"To me personally, I think he's the best center in our (AFC North) division," Ngata said. "He's real physical and real smart."
That's a high compliment when taking into account the other centers in the division. The Pittsburgh Steelers have Maurkice Pouncey, who, when not injured, has proven to be an elite player. The Ravens have solid, 15-year veteran Matt Birk, and the Cincinnati Bengals are going with former Brown Jeff Faine.
Three of the four were first-round draft choices. Birk, who was selected in the sixth round of the 1998 draft, is the exception.
"That's a good compliment coming from him because he's a real good player himself," Mack said. "He's one of the more talented interior he even plays D end linemen around."
Ngata won't line up exclusively against Mack. He'll flip sides and face guards John Greco and Shaun Lauvao. Mack will have duty on double-team blocks.
Ngata is almost a freak of human nature. He's huge (6-4, 340), but he has incredible speed and quickness. A video of Ngata playing rugby in high school highlights his impressive athletic skills.
"With his size and his speed, he has the power to take on anything, but he's also real quick," Mack said. "He's got a good combo that makes him hard to block."
To Browns fans, Ngata is another one that got away. With the 12th overall pick in the 2006 draft, Browns general manager Phil Savage narrowed his choices to Ngata and defensive end/outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley. According to Savage, then-coach Romeo Crennel wanted Wimbley.
The Browns and Ravens then made a trade to flip draft choices. The Ravens selected Ngata with the 12th pick, while the Browns drafted Wimbley at 13 plus defensive lineman Babatunde Oshinowo with the extra pick acquired in the trade.
Wimbley had 11 sacks as a rookie but slipped quickly into mediocrity and was traded to the Oakland Raiders in 2010. He signed with the Titans earlier this year. Oshinowo's career lasted all of two games.
Ngata thought he might end up with the Browns on draft day. Who knows how his career would have played out.
"I thought about that," Ngata said. "It would have been different. They picked Wimbley after I was picked. He's been on three different teams. I don't know if I would have been in the same boat."
Ngata was injured 18 days ago on what turned into a disastrous day for the Ravens against the Dallas Cowboys. Ngata sprained his MCL knee ligament, which was minor compared to serious injuries suffered by cornerback Ladarius Webb and linebacker Ray Lewis. Webb tore an ACL and is done for the season. Lewis tore a triceps and is on IR-designated for return.
The Ravens did get linebacker Terrell Suggs back for their game against the Houston Texans 11 days ago, but safety Ed Reed is nursing an injury. The injuries resulted in an embarrassing 43-13 loss to the Texans.
"They're still a really good defense," Mack said. "Look at their record (4-3). There has to be a reason why."
It starts with Ngata.