WESTFIELD – The speed, quickness, relentlessness and other assorted aggressive-related traits are impossible to miss.
On one play during an 11-on-11 drill Thursday, Yannick Ngakoue sliced into the backfield from the backside and engulfed Jonathan Taylor for a loss before the NFL’s reigning rushing champion could get to the right corner. A few plays later, the veteran defensive end blew up another designed run.
That’s how Ngakoue practices, and plays.
“Since high school,’’ he said. “You practice like you play. You’ve got to make practice harder than games, and then the game’s a little easier.’’
Ngakoue described himself as low-key, at least away from the game.
“Humble,’’ he said. “Humble, caring, loving. Definitely have a soft side to me.
“I’m mean out here on the field, but for instance, I love my puppy. I have a Belgian Malinois, that’s my guy. He definitely brings out the soft side of me.’’
But when it’s time to get serious at his craft, Ngakoue knows the drill.
“Ah, gotta flip the switch because it’s every man for himself out there,’’ he said. “That’s my whole mentality when I go out there. I try to scratch and claw each and every play.’’
Ngakoue insisted there’s an immediate internal transformation.
“Absolutely,’’ he said. “Just taking myself to a dark place. It’s all in my mind – four inches (between the ears) – you know what I’m saying?’’
Ngakoue represents one of Chris Ballard’s most aggressive offseason acquisitions. The team acquired a proven edge pass-rush threat – 55.5 sacks in six seasons and 95 games – in a trade with the Las Vegas Raiders. The cost was starting cornerback Rock Ya-Sin.
Ngakoue is with his fifth team since 2019, but once again is in Gus Bradley’s defense. The two were together last season with the Raiders and for four seasons in Jacksonville.
“It’s just great being back in the same scheme with Gus,’’ he said.
The Colts need Ngakoue to be the catalyst for their pass rush. He should take double-team pressure off All-Pro tackle DeForest Buckner and create opportunities for 2021 first-round draft pick Kwity Paye.
“I’m just trying to bring the young guys up with me, like Kwity and Dayo (Odeyingbo), guys like that,’’ he said.
Ngakoue’s bottom-line objective?
“Just expecting to bring my best to the team each and every play,’’ he said.
He’s had at least 8 sacks in each of his first six seasons. The only other players who match that: Aaron Donald and Von Miller.
Is Ngakoue a numbers guy?
“No, I’m a team guy,’’ he said.
Some advice for onlookers at training camp: Don’t blink.
The offensive pace has been undeniably up-tempo. That’s led to the first two days of practice ending 10 minutes early even though each involved the same number of plays as previous camp sessions.
“That’s because the quarterback is pushing the tempo,’’ Frank Reich said. “Yeah, I mean it’s unbelievable. It should be noticeable to you guys, too, but like we have the exact same amount of plays and two days in a row . . . we have never practiced that fast.
“It’s a mentality. It’s a confidence. It’s a ‘We’ve got to get up and play.’’’
Credit Matt Ryan.
“He came in talking about that and he told me at the start, ‘I’m going to push the tempo,’’’ Reich said. “And I said, ‘We’ll follow your lead. Go.’
“That is what we have done.’’
Left tackle Matt Pryor has noticed.
“Yeah man, (finished) 10 minutes early since yesterday,’’ he said. “Whenever he breaks the huddle, he’s ‘Hurry up, get to the line get to the line.’
“Obviously you have to have a dominant offense (but) you want the offense getting to the line quick cause then the defenses are like, ‘We’ve got to hurry up,’ and maybe that’ll throw them off a little bit.
“Yeah, he really turns up the field.’’
Good and bad
Rookie Alec Pierce has had a good start to camp. He and Ryan have been in sync.
But the first-round draft pick had one of those rookie moments Thursday. During 7-on-7 drills, Pierce got behind cornerback Isaiah Rodgers and Nick Foles delivered a perfect pass down the right side.
But Pierce dropped it.
This and that
Buckner has been held out of drills to this point because of back issue. Reich indicated the team is “playing it safe with him.’’ . . . Shaquille Leonard, who’s in rehab mode from June back surgery, looked on and supported the defense during Thursday’s practice. . . . The team added rookie defensive tackle Eric Johnson II to the active roster from the non-football injury list.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.