Loss of Ngata leaves hole in Lions defense

Sports Xchange

October 11, 2017 at 11:45 pm.

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — The NFL’s third-ranked rushing defense suffered a big blow Wednesday when the Detroit Lions placed defensive tackle Haloti Ngata on injured reserve with a season-ending biceps injury.

Ngata played well in the Lions’ 3-2 start, notching two sacks in five games, and was generally considered the team’s best interior run defender.

“He’s obviously an incredible individual, not just in terms of what he does for us on the field,” Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said. “He’s been able to do a lot of great things for us, but then off the field with his leadership is huge. You’re not going to go out and find another Haloti Ngata. It’s just not going to happen.”

The Lions signed defensive tackles Datone Jones and Caraun Reid to help take Ngata’s place, and will lean heavily on in-house options A’Shawn Robinson, Akeem Spence and Jeremiah Ledbetter in the coming weeks.

Robinson, a second-round pick last year, has had a quiet first five games with 10 tackles and one forced fumble. Spence is a disruptive interior pass rusher, but undersized in the run game. Ledbetter has been up and down as a rookie sixth-round pick.

“Definitely ready to take on a bigger role and just have to carry on what he had going here, just to keep these guys working, just do what we do every day,” Spence said. “We’ve been losing guys, but the next guy’s been stepping up just like when we lost Kerry (Hyder) and (Anthony) Zettel just stepped up and has been playing lights out. So we just got to keep that mentality.”

Ngata, meanwhile, will have a decision to make on whether he wants to return for a 13th NFL season.

The 33-year-old considered retirement last year, but chose to stick around for the final year of his contract and chase his second Super Bowl ring.

Caldwell said Ngata, a two-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowler, strikes him as a future Hall-of-Famer.

“Just the impact that he’s had on the game,” Caldwell said. “I think he went to (five) straight Pro Bowls early on in his career, powerful guy that is kind of a little different breed. He’s one of the few big men on the inside that can just flat out run. You watch him cover sideline to sideline even during his early years, he did some unusual things. And his numbers were probably — I’m not certain what his numbers are, but I would anticipate that they’ve been pretty, pretty impressive overall.