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Mack prepares for Ngata

Posted Nov 1, 2012

In his conference call with the Cleveland media, Ravens defensive lineman Haloti Ngata was complimentary of Browns center, Alex Mack.

With his work on the field over the past three-and-a-half seasons, Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack has earned both the attention and respect of his counterparts on opposing defensive lines throughout the NFL.

When Mack lines up to snap the ball to quarterback Brandon Weeden against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, he will do so while defending against the oncoming rush of a Pro Bowl defensive tackle, Haloti Ngata. In a conference call with the Cleveland media Wednesday, Ngata said he felt Mack was one of the best centers in the AFC North Division.

“That’s high praise from Haloti,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “I’d flip it around and say he’s probably one of the best defensive tackles in the league, for sure. They get to go against each other. They’ve gone against each other quite a few times. We’ve got a lot of respect for their players and to hear that, it’s good. It’ll be a good battle, for sure.”

With Mack setting the tone up front and five-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas protecting the blindside, the Browns have surrendered just 13 sacks for 81 lost yards through eight games. They are on pace for their lowest sacks allowed total since the 2008 season, when they surrendered only 24.

“I think he’s doing a good job,” Shurmur said of Mack. “There’s a lot going on for a center. I tend to lean on him quite a bit. Anytime you have a young quarterback, the center gets the ball rolling, gets all the calls made and the quarterback can trump him. He’s a very smart guy; he studies very hard and I think he’s an outstanding player. I think he’s having a good year.”

While Mack and Ngata battle on the interior of the line, Thomas will contend with outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. Suggs missed the first six games of the year with an Achilles tendon injury, but returned in the Ravens’ 43-13 loss at the Houston Texans two weeks ago.

“They’re two fiery, very, very fine players,” Shurmur said. “It’s a good battle. I remember when I was in Philly, we had the (Eagles offensive tackle Jon) Runyan-(Giants defensive end Michael) Strahan thing going, which was fun. It was kind of a little game within the game. Those are two really good players going after each other. Suggs can appear on the other side as well.”

When studying film of Suggs, Thomas said “he’s good because he’s not one-dimensional.”

“He’s not just a third-down speed rusher and he’s not just a run stopper,” Thomas said. “He does both things exceptionally well. He’s big; he’s strong; he’s fast. He’s got everything you want in an outside linebacker, defensive end.”

WORKING TO IMPROVE

Shurmur said he wants to see continued improvement, both in practice and in meetings, as well as on game day.

“We’ve got a very low, almost no tolerance, for mistakes,” Shurmur said. “The big thing is, you don’t want to see repeatable errors. That’s the important thing. As long as that’s not happening, and each guy does what he can to minimize his mistakes, then, we’re going in the right direction. I think we’re getting better, which means we’re making less mistakes. We’ve got to turn them into wins.”

BREAKING THROUGH THE WALL

The phrase “hitting the rookie wall” is often made in reference to the point of the NFL regular season where the amount of games will have exceeded those that were played in college by the first-year players. Shurmur said he is monitoring the first-year Browns.

“I think they’re all pushing through whatever it might be,” Shurmur said. “Then, you look at their performance. You look at their work in practice and you try to encourage them to get their rest, making sure they’re taking care of their bodies, all the things that we can control on a daily basis and just encourage them to do the right things and develop that professional routine away from the building so that they can come back each Sunday and perform at a high level, better than the Sunday before.”

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