- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Detroit Lions reporter
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There shouldn’t be major comparisons made between new Detroit Lions defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to the man he’ll be replacing in the middle of the defensive line, Ndamukong Suh. This despite the Lions continually saying they felt like they found the best possible replacement for Suh, who is in his prime, in Ngata, who is just leaving his.
In many ways, they did find the best possible replacement, a message continued Wednesday at the owners meeting with Jim Caldwell, who knows both players well.
There’s one area where any expectation of Ngata replacing Suh is completely unrealistic: Usage and volume of snaps played for the Lions. Caldwell wouldn’t commit to how much the team plans on using Ngata this fall.
“It depends on what we require of him,” Caldwell said at the owners meetings Wednesday. “I think. We’ll see. We’ll see where we are. To tell you at this point in time how many, we’ll see. He can go a ways.
“I don’t know, you guys do your research, he played rugby when he was in high school and his father was a great rugby player was well. This guy can run, and he’s an athlete.”
There is little question about Ngata’s athleticism, especially at 340 pounds. His rugby background has certainly helped his career, and he is one of the better tackles in the NFL.
But he likely won’t and shouldn’t be on the field nearly as much as Suh was. He should be there more than Nick Fairley, who rarely played more than 66 percent of snaps in a game and only once eclipsed 60 percent of available snaps in a season.
Suh was freakish when it came to his availability. Suh played fewer than 80 percent of Detroit’s defensive snaps he was available for in a season once, in 2011. In three of his five seasons with the Lions, he actually played at least 85 percent, according to Pro Football Focus.
Ngata has been on the field a lot, but from 2007 until now -- data is not available for his rookie year in 2006 -- he never appeared in 80 percent of Baltimore’s defensive snaps in a season. He hit his high snap percentage of 78.2 in 2012 and has dropped in his usage since, with 68.8 percent in 2013 and 66.1 percent in 2014, according to PFF.
So it could be interesting to see how the Lions use Ngata this fall, especially since the man expected to line up next to him -- Tyrunn Walker -- has only played more than 50 percent of snaps in a game once in his career. That was in Week 17 in 2014 against Tampa Bay. For a season, Walker has not played more than 30 percent of snaps in a year.
He is young and someone who should be able to handle an increased workload, but how he handles the added work over the course of a season could be interesting. The third tackle as of now -- Jermelle Cudjo -- has never played more than 36 percent of snaps in a season, according to PFF and fourth tackle Caraun Reid played 13.9 percent of snaps his rookie season.
Figuring the Lions will add a rookie to the rotation as well, and there is a possibility of using Jason Jones, Devin Taylor or Darryl Tapp inside from time-to-time. The Lions are still in an interesting rotational situation when it comes to replacing how much the franchise used Suh.
Caldwell made it sound like the Lions aren’t necessarily done searching for interior defensive linemen yet, either.
“We’re constantly looking,” Caldwell said. “We’re constantly trying to make certain we make improvements as we go along, and I do think that the first two moves that we made have been significant and we’ll see what happens.”
Jim Caldwell wouldn't commit to how much the team plans on using Haloti Ngata this fall.