Ngata likes Lions' depth at defensive tackle

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Devin Taylor, left, and Haloti Ngata of the Lions celebrate a tackle against the Vikings at Ford Field.

Haloti Ngata has had by far the most impressive career of any defensive tackle on the Lions, but now that he’s 32, it’s hard to expect him to play at his All-Pro level from 2010 and 2011.

So, as the Lions look to cause disruption along the interior, Ngata will need a little help from his friends, and he’s excited about the potential of the group of tackles for 2016.

“I see a lot of depth, and it’s going to be a lot of fun just to see the competition, how that rolls along,” he said last week. “It’s going to be exciting. We have so many good guys, great guys that could become great players, and it’s going to be hard to tell who’s going to come out because we’ve got so many good guys here right now.”

The Lions restocked their defensive tackle position this offseason. In addition to re-signing Ngata and Tyrunn Walker, the Week 1 starters last year, the Lions drafted A’Shawn Robinson in the second round and signed Stefan Charles.

As a second-round pick, expectations will surely be high for Robinson, especially after he was a key run-stuffer during Alabama’s national title run last season.

“A’Shawn’s awesome,” Ngata said. “He’s freaking big and strong. He’s going to be a great student of the game. He pays attention and just always corrects what he needs to correct.”

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Charles joined the Lions on a one-year deal after the Buffalo Bills declined to tender him as a restricted free agent. A similar situation led Walker to the Lions last year after the New Orleans Saints balked at his restricted status.

Ngata said Charles still has to adjust to the Lions’ attack-first defense after having other duties with the Bills, something Ngata dealt with last season after coming to Detroit in a trade from the Baltimore Ravens.

“He’s going to be a beast once he gets everything down, and it’s just going to be a fun (training) camp for us … coming up,” Ngata said of Charles.

Although the 6-foot-5, 323-pound Charles isn’t expected to start, he was more productive in his backup role with the Bills than Walker was in his with the Saints, so perhaps Charles has untapped potential.

Ultimately, Ngata and Walker will likely be the starters, assuming Walker’s rehabilitation from a broken leg continues to go well. Caraun Reid will compete for a starting role, too, but he’s still recovering from offseason ankle surgery.

And even though it’s too early to tell the team’s plans for rookies, Robinson played with the first-team defense during the organized team activities open to the media last Thursday, so the rookie could be heavily involved in the rotation this year, too.

But the group goes even deeper than Ngata, Walker, Reid and Charles. Gabe Wright was a fourth-round pick last year, and even though he struggled as a rookie, improvement is a reasonable expectation. Khyri Thornton hasn’t made much impact in the NFL in his first two seasons, but the former third-round pick by Green Bay spent the entire offseason with Detroit.

“I really, honestly, think this defensive line can do a lot of good things once we can get that jell, the camaraderie,” Ngata said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch.”

The tackles will obviously need to mesh with the ends to create camaraderie, but the Lions’ top tackles should already have a good bond with the top ends, as Ziggy Ansah and Devin Taylor will likely start.

Some of the other veterans — Jason Jones and Haloti Ngata — are gone, so suddenly, the group of ends looks shallower than the tackles, which is the inverse of last season.

“Right now we’re doing some good things, but if we can continue to get some of these guys that are new to understand what type of defense we want, this defense could be a really good defense,” Ngata said.