By Mike Preston
The Baltimore Sun
June 12, 2008
Even in his first practice as a rookie, Jonathan Ogden stood out. He was tall, lanky and shuffled his feet as he walked. He looked more like an NBA power forward than an offensive tackle.
In fact, Ogden played guard his first season as a Raven. He ruined the crescendo of the offensive line, where it grows taller and bigger starting from the center and moving out to the tackles. There aren't too many 6-foot-9 guards.
And there might never be another Jonathan Ogden.
Often in sports, we compare players, but it's hard with Ogden and any other great offensive tackle. Art Shell and Jim Parker had bulk, but not like Ogden, who also had the foot speed, balance and technique of Anthony Munoz.
If there is ever a time to use the word "graceful" in describing an offensive tackle, then this is it, because Ogden was that good.
Ogden told the Ravens of his decision to retire yesterday, ending a distinguished 12-year career that included 11 Pro Bowl appearances, leaving him a sure first-ballot election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The NFL has seen great ones come before Ogden, like Parker and Roosevelt Brown, but not with such a combination of power, speed, agility and size. Ogden was a pure blend of it all, a freak in the greatest sense of the word.
On just about every Sunday of his professional life, he didn't merely dominate a player, he took away his desire to play against him.
Ogden once shut down Jacksonville Pro Bowl defensive end Tony Brackens so badly in the first half of a game that the Jaguars basically turned him into an outside linebacker in the second half, dropping him into coverage.
Against Ogden, Brackens couldn't get two steps off the line of scrimmage. Ogden once blocked Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Warren Sapp so hard on a running play that Sapp said afterward he thought Ogden had broken his ribs.
Overall, Ogden dominated all of them like that. Oh, every now and then, a Simeon Rice or a Dwight Freeney might have gotten the best of him, especially in the twilight of his career, but not in his prime.
Ogden was a luxury. The Ravens could go into a game knowing they could neutralize the other team's top pass rusher. They didn't have to chip him with other players or game plan around the pass rusher, because Ogden was automatic.
He didn't have a specialty. Ogden protected the quarterback's blind side, but he also was an excellent run blocker. He overpowered players in short-yardage situations because he had such explosion, and had quick enough feet to cut off linebackers in the second level of a defense.
And for a 330-some-pound man, he could run. Some of the best moments in Ravens' history were watching Ogden pull around the corner with running back Jamal Lewis behind him.
Talk about a cornerback's worst nightmare. Here's a runaway tractor-trailer and a dump truck coming at you full speed downhill.
Ogden was exceptional in pass protection. He always worked on his pass set, and it had to be perfect. Even when it was slightly off, he would shake his head in disgust.
Trying to get around Ogden was like trying to run around a tank. One of Ogden's strides often meant two or three for others. His super-long arms were perfect for keeping the opposition away from his body. And if he got one of those huge paws on you, Ogden could knock you into next week.
Football just seemed to come so easy to him, almost as if he toyed with greatness.
He didn't train exceptionally hard and seldom appeared for the team's offseason workouts. Ogden never feared an opponent and usually approached great matchups with a yawn.
But underneath the calm demeanor, Ogden was a fierce competitor on game day. He was animated and emotional and had outbursts on the sidelines, especially when he thought the Ravens missed scoring opportunities.
Ogden had the utmost respect of his teammates, and when he spoke over at The Castle, everyone listened. Just ask Jim Fassel, who was dismissed as the team's offensive coordinator in 2006 because of an Ogden-led revolt.
But in the past three seasons, you could see a change in Ogden. He got married and became more family-oriented. He struggled with the death of his father, and football became less important. Training camp became more of an irritant instead of a necessity.
And then last season, when he missed five games because of turf toe that he initially suffered near the end of the 2006 season, you saw a player bothered by the team's losing and nagging injuries.
It all has taken its toll. Ogden can't settle for not playing at the standard he set for himself.
Football has never been his identity. If he took a year off, allowed the foot to heal and worked out hard during the offseason, Ogden could come back and play for two, maybe three seasons. But that's not him.
He won't come back. But at least for the past 12 seasons, we got a chance to see maybe the best player ever at his position.
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