Last season, to say that the Cleveland Browns could not stop the run was like an expression that King Kong was a big monkey. After getting hammered on the ground by the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 5, every team had their blueprint and exploited that defensive weakness that finished 25th.
So shortly after the franchise hired Jim Schwartz as their new defensive coordinator, the new sheriff submitted an outline on how to fix the defense. The first on the list was to bring in capable defensive tackles in free agency and the NFL draft.
Jordan Elliott, Perrion Winfrey, Tommy Togiai, Ben Stille, and Roderick Perry were holdovers from last season. Taven Bryan signed a one-year deal with the Indianapolis Colts. Winfrey was arrested on misdemeanor assault charges in April with that outcome pending. Perry spent 2022 on the practice squad. Dalvin Tomlinson was signed early in free agency. Stille was re-signed and plays DE as well as DT.
In the third round of this year’s NFL draft, GM Andrew Berry selected Siaki Ika from Baylor with the club’s second pick of the round at #98. Ika is a mountain of a man at a height of 6’-3”, but more importantly weighing in at 335 pounds. Hopefully, the Browns won’t have to feed him many meals.
Here is the scouting report on Ika from Pro Football Network:
“Ika is a hard-nosed DT who is best occupying gaps and blockers. While he shows some ability to make plays against the run, Ika is a bit one-dimensional. Ika is scheme-specific, but he can be dominant at the next level in the right system. While there’s an assumption that he’ll be a run-down situational presence on the line, I do believe that Ika’s scouting report showcases that he possesses plenty of pass-rush upsides.”
His name is pronounced see-ah-key, ee-kuh.
The Baylor product is rather big with plenty of power. He is explosive off the snap and keeps his feet moving. Bullrush or keeping his ground is never an issue. He is an exceptional run defender, however, only an average pass rusher. Ika must be coached up on building a repertoire of moves because he keeps using the same ones. Another negative is that he can sometimes become too pokey to shed blocks especially if the offensive lineman has a good angle on him.
Ika, whose nickname is “Apu”, grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah. He attended East High School where he was rated a four-star recruit in football. He played on the school’s basketball team.
Ika is a talented singer who has sung the National Anthem in full uniform. He is the youngest of five children from a family that grew up in Salt Lake City but migrated from the Tongan islands before he was born. His parents moved back to Tonga to run a family business while he was in high school, so Ika was raised by his siblings in Utah. He has held his Polynesian roots close to him his whole life.
Ika discussed his heritage with the Waco Tribune-Herald:
“That’s one of my favorite things about me is how much in tune I am with my family and the Polynesian community in Utah. That’s what I love about where I grew up. I have a lot of friends who didn’t grow up around that. They want it so bad. They see how in tune we are with culture and different traditional attire and activities. It’s a part of history and knowing where you come from.”
In football, he was a starter for two-and-one-half seasons. In his sophomore year, East won the 4A State Championship. After moving up to 5A in Ika’s junior year, East was again in the title game but was defeated.
During his senior year, he had 89 tackles with 14 sacks, including three games with three or more. At season’s end, Ika was named 2018 First Team ALL-USA (Utah), plus the Utah Defensive Player of the Year.
For his high school career in football, he had 30 sacks and 232 total tackles. He was invited to the All-American Bowl plus the Polynesian Bowl.
Colleges came out of the woodwork for his playing future since his junior year. He had offers from Ohio State, BYU, Florida, Alabama, LSU, Wisconsin, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Michigan State, Nebraska, Penn State, Utah, Vanderbilt, Utah State, Oregon, USC, and Washington.
His official visits were to Florida, Utah, Oregon, LSU, and USC.
Despite all of the attention he had received, Ika remained remarkably grounded throughout the recruiting process with his calm-natured attitude. The amount of mail and phone calls from college position and head coaches were staggering and certainly time-consuming.
He explained the recruiting life to SLTrib.com:
“The offers are great to have and it’s an honor. But, I have to have a plan.”
Which fit his chill nature. Off the field, he is humble, intelligent, and basically a pretty quiet dude. He is very aware that he is a good player, don’t get that message wrong, however, he is not boastful and has been calculated with every decision. Ika is a good kid. You won’t find drama or problems with him, but instead, a grinder who works hard. And colleges flocked to him.
The no-drama approach came from his family. After his parents moved back home, his siblings were now in charge of his upbringing. Perhaps they had less patience than his parents because immediately it became known that Ika was not going to be a troublemaker or a problem kid because his siblings did not have time for that.
Meetings set up at his high school were attended by numerous family members instead of just one. This was done so that everyone was on the same page with his upbringing and the fact that his goal of playing professionally could only be achieved if he kept out of trouble. So yes, a village raised this kid and kept him on the right track.
As far as colleges, BYU, Utah State, and Utah were all close to home and highly-considered which was an oddity because most recruits prefer to get away from their hometown – and parents. Alabama was a dream school that really puts an emphasis on their defense while Ohio State made a good pitch as Ika had attended their June football camp. Oregon pushed hard for a commitment as did USC.
Ika initially committed to BYU, but later re-opened his commitment and signed his letter of intent with the LSU Tigers.
LSU landed ESPN 300 defensive tackle Siaki Ika, ranked No. 243 overall.— Tom VanHaaren (@TomVH) December 19, 2018
At LSU he became known as a defensive lineman which often took two offensive linemen to block him. This allowed the linebackers to roam and stuff the run game.
LSU did not stash him on the depth chart nor redshirt him. He played in all 13 games as a freshman with 17 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. LSU won the National Championship that season.
A news story about Ika from LSU head coach Ed Orgeron during the off-season stated:.
“Coach Ed Orgeron spoke glowingly about Ika over the offseason and thought he could be the next great nose tackle in the LSU program.”
As a sophomore, he was supposed to be a key part, if not the major part, of LSU’s defensive line. However, Ika appeared in just two games with five tackles. LSU seniors Glen Logan and Neil Farrell were given most of the game snaps after the defense switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3 as Ika became a situational player instead of the starting nose tackle.
2019 4-star DT Siaki Ika has entered the transfer portal after totaling 22 tackles, 2.5 TFL and 1sack in 13 career games (2 in 2020) at #GeauxTigers @rivalsmike @RivalsWoody @JimmyDetail https://t.co/iLBUfWWohz— NCAA Transfer Portal (@RivalsPortal) October 28, 2020
After his limited playing time, he announced that he would enter the transfer portal. Utah was immediately one of the schools that were mentioned as his next address as they had been a finalist before his commitment to LSU.
Orgeron stated at a press conference about Ika leaving:
“We recruited him to play in the 3-4 defense. But with the 4-3 scheme, we wanted more quickness there. He was struggling a little bit. I wanted him to stay. He’s more of a 3-4 nose tackle. I think he can still have a heck of a career.”
Ika then announced he would transfer to play for the Baylor Bears where he rejoined former LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and had been named the new head coach.
In his two seasons at Baylor, Ika had 48 total tackles, 4.5 sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss, and three batted passes. In 2021 he was named the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and was elected First Team All-Big 12 for two consecutive seasons (2021, 2022).
The NFL draft
Most draft sites had Ika ranked in the middle of the second round. The fact that he was available at Number 98 in the third round was a blessing for the Browns which is needing an overhaul in the DT room.
Ika is truly a giant man. He has great footwork and is explosive off the snap. He is known as a compassionate person who has a sweet, humble disposition off the field with a competitive, nasty streak while wearing cleats.
What can the Browns expect from Ika?
For one, he was officially the heaviest player on the roster for a single day until Berry drafted OT Dawand Jones on Day 3 who weighs 374 pounds. Berry noted after drafting the talented DT:
“I’ll call it a ‘Schwartzism. He (DC Jim Schwartz) wants guys to be as big as they possibly can, without sacrificing movement. For some guys at defensive tackle, that may be 305, and for others that may be 355. Siaki has been anywhere from 335 to 355. depending on what the scheme required. For us, we’ll work with him when he gets on site for what we’re going to ask him to do, but he has played effectively throughout that weight range.”
Cleveland fans can expect a very good run stuffer, which is the purpose of bringing in new guys like Ika into the DT group.
After the draft, DC Schwartz said this to Ika on FaceTime:
“Love the way you play on tape. You play the way it should be played so we’re real excited about having you here. You’re not a dump truck anymore now, Apu. You’re a Ferrari. Let’s get going.”
And what was Ika’s response when later asked about the Ferrari comment?
“To be honest, I don’t know what it means. But, hey, I will do whatever he wants me to do. I will be a Ferrari. I will be a Chevy if you want me to be. It probably [means] just growing up, becoming a pro. So I’m definitely going to start looking at myself as a Ferrari now.”
How do you grade the Browns taking Ika in the third round?
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Thought other positions were of greater need