Not too long ago, Ma’ake Kemoeatu had a knack for swallowing up opposing blockers and running backs with remarkable efficiency. But then the nose tackle was beset by injuries, sitting out two of the last three seasons.
Kemoeatu, 33, is eager to revive memories of his past, and his comeback has begun with the Ravens, who signed the free agent on May 2.
“I’m trying to prove that I can still play football,” he said after Friday’s training camp practice at the team’s complex in Owings Mills. “I do feel like I’ve got a chip on my shoulder. I feel like I still have another three or four years in me. So this year, I’m going to give it a shot.”
Kemoeatu sat out the 2009 campaign after tearing his right Achilles tendon and then missed last season to heal a shoulder injury that cut short his stay with the Washington Redskins in 2010.
During that time away from football, Kemoeatu’s weight ballooned to over 400 pounds. But returning to working out reinvigorated his desire to continue playing football.
“Last year, I didn’t think so at first, and I thought, ‘Maybe I’m done,’” the 6-foot-5, 345-pound Kemoeatu recalled. “But then I started working out. I was 415 [pounds], but then I dropped 70 pounds and I started feeling like, ‘Man, you know what? I can still do this. I can still play.’ But I am playing with a chip on my shoulder. I need to prove that I can still play. If I can stay healthy, I can do another three or four more years.”
Kemoeatu said he dropped the weight by adhering to a diet that emphasized protein and vegetables over sugar and refined flour. Greasy steaks and other fattening foods were replaced with healthy shakes, and late-night dining was banned altogether.
“It’s like being in a faithful relationship. If you’re faithful to your diet, you’re going to lose it,” he said of sticking to the regimen. “I took it like that.”
The Ravens have wasted little time testing Kemoeatu’s conditioning, asking him to fill in for three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and inserting him with the first defensive line of nose tackle Terrence Cody and defensive end Arthur Jones.
Center Matt Birk has tangled with Kemoeatu frequently during the first three days of training camp and came away impressed with his mobility.
“He’s a big, strong guy that can move,” Birk said. “That’s what makes a good NFL defensive lineman. I’ve played against him in games before and he’s been a good player for a long time. He understands the position and can play a lot of different techniques for different fronts. So he’s a great guy to have in the rotation for us."
Ngata was placed on the physically-unable-to-perform list after injuring his hamstring while trying to complete the team’s conditioning test, and the organization is in no rush to hurry him back. So Kemoeatu could be a fixture on the defensive line until Ngata’s return, but Kemoeatu made it very clear that he can’t fully replace Ngata’s talent.
“If Haloti goes down, I can maybe fill about 25 percent of what he can do to help the team,” Kemoeatu said. “But you can never fill 100 percent of Haloti because he’s so versatile. Against the run, the pass, blitzing, he does so many things. It would take me, Cody and a couple other guys to fill Haloti’s shoes. Please, Lord, don’t let him go down. I’m really praying that he’ll be healthy and get to play the full season.”