Whenever the Eagles bring in an older veteran — something they’ve been doing more and more recently — they go through the steps to make sure the player still has that fire to play.
The Eagles don’t have to worry about that with Haloti Ngata.
The 34-year-old former All-Pro is a jolly man who still clearly loves the game. While the Eagles normally try to determine if older guys still have that competitive desire and aren’t just after a quick cash grab at the end, they didn’t even really need to ask Ngata.
See, his 2017 season in Detroit ended with a trip to the IR for a torn biceps after just three games. You know how Jason Peters and Darren Sproles just weren’t going out like that? Ditto Ngata.
“I just have that little hunger still,” Ngata said last week. “I want to end my career on a better note.”
Ngata is now five years removed from his last Pro Bowl season and seven years removed from his last All-Pro year. The big 340-pound defensive tackle has had a great career, but he’s simply no longer at his peak and he hasn’t been for a while.
But he’s still huge and was still playing at a decently high level, especially against the run, before getting injured last year.
The big question surrounding Ngata right now is this: How big of a role can/will he play?
That’s an even more important question considering the mystery surrounding Tim Jernigan’s situation with the team (see story). The Eagles’ starting defensive tackle, who is supposed to play next to Fletcher Cox, is on the Active/NFI and it seems really likely he’s going to be on the NFI to start the season, which will force him to miss the first six games.
For now, third-year player Destiny Vaeao is working with the first team in Jernigan’s place and Ngata is on the second team. But it’s very plausible that Ngata will be asked to take Jernigan’s place once the season begins.
“We’ll see,” Ngata said. “We’ll have to see with Timmy Jernigan. And Des is doing such a great job right now. I’m learning a lot from Des, him being in front of me. We’re going to have a good rotation. It’s going to be a strong defensive front.”
Still relatively new to the Eagles’ defense, Ngata is in a somewhat weird position, leaning on his much younger teammates to answer his questions and help him catch up. But Ngata doesn’t seem to have an ego and praised the guy currently standing in his way, saying Vaeao plays like a quiet leader.
Being a second-stringer early in training camp hasn’t humbled Ngata simply because he’s already humble. Ngata is biding his time as he learns the intricacies of the defense, but “definitely” thinks he’ll get in there with the first team during training camp.
“Right now, I’m still just trying to learn the playbook and understand my role and getting my fit in the system,” he said. “But I’m not worried about it. Just keep on doing what I do and rotate in.”
One of the Eagles’ strengths last year was their defensive line. But there are some questions right now at DT with Jernigan’s injury. Ngata could be the answer.