Haloti Ngata felt good enough about the conclusion he reached from the physical self-evaluation process that he puts himself through every offseason that he was eager to return to the Detroit Lions to play his 12th NFL season – with perhaps more to come.
Ngata has undergone some physical changes since beginning his career with the Baltimore Ravens in 2006, but nothing that he feels will keep him from competing at a high level in his third season in Detroit since being acquired in a trade before the 2015 season.
The state of Ngata's personal health is only part of what has him looking forward to the 2017 season. Additions made in the offseason – free-agent signings and players taken in last week's draft – should upgrade the overall defense, and the pass rush in particular.
"The things we've kind of done this offseason, with the draft and the guys we picked up, it makes us excited," Ngata said Thursday. "Especially with the young draft picks – the linebackers and the DBs (defensive backs).
"It'll be a lot of fun to see how they can help us. We'll see how some of the guys we picked up on the defensive line – we'll see what we can do this year."
General manager Bob Quinn drafted six defensive players, starting with linebacker Jarrad Davis in the first round and cornerback Teez Tabor in the second. Both played at Florida. Based on their draft position, both are expected to make an immediate impact, especially Davis.
Among the free agents signed for the front seven are defensive linemen Cornelius Washington and Akeem Spence, and linebacker Paul Worrilow.
The return to health of defensive end Ziggy Ansah, who was limited to two sacks while playing over an ankle injury sustained in the second game, will give the Lions a premier pass rusher. And developing next to Ngata at defensive tackle is A'Shawn Robinson, a second-round draft pick last year who emerged as a starter and interior force late last season.
The Lions had only 26 sacks last year, second fewest in the league. Getting the pass rush back to the level of 2015, when the Lions were tied for seventh with 43 sacks – and led by Ansah's 14.5 – would benefit the entire defense.
"It definitely helps our defense," Ngata said. "It's huge if we can get sacks. That's what we're trying to focus on this offseason, and hopefully we can do a better job of getting there (to the quarterback), and finishing the job when we get there.
"Definitely, Ziggy being healthy is going to be huge. That's going to help. I think some of the guys we picked up – Cornelius and some of the other guys we brought in, that's definitely going to help us."
Ngata was in an upbeat mood as he talked about preparing for another season at the age of 34. It's his third with the Lions after spending the first nine in Baltimore. He likes what he sees in other areas of the team, not just the defense.
One is the signing of T.J. Lang, who spent his first eight seasons with the NFC North rival Green Bay Packers. Lang is one of the key additions in what has been a two-year makeover of the offensive line. Ngata faced Lang four times in his first two seasons in Detroit.
"It's awesome," Ngata said. "I'm glad he's on our team. He's a great player, a great leader. It's only going to help us."
There was a somber moment when Ngata talked about the tragic death of former Ravens teammate Todd Heap's daughter, Holly. Holly was killed in an accident when struck by a vehicle driven by her father.
Ngata and his wife, Christina, have three sons. They were deeply saddened by the tragic death of Holly Heap. Todd and Haloti were teammates for seven seasons (2006-2012).
Ngata attended Holly's funeral in Baltimore. On Wednesday, Haloti and Christina took part in a "Hugs for Holly" event at Maybury Elementary School in Detroit that was part of a national memorial for Holly. Her birthday was Wednesday.
"We tried to make it a day, a 'Hugs for Holly Day,'" Ngata said. "We went out to Maybury elementary and just kind of hung out with them – gave them some snacks, played some games with them.
"We just kind of spread Holly's hugs and love throughout the nation. We just kind of did it here."