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Jonathan Ogden is a quick study, tall order for foes

The Baltimore Sun

When a lightning-quick pass rusher is dissecting film at home, the Ravens' Jonathan Ogden is getting excited about finding meat on sale at the grocery store.

When a formidable defensive end is burying his head in the playbook at night, Ogden is immersed in the latest science-fiction novel.

Come game time, the Ravens offensive tackle is not only on top of his game - but also on top of the league. At 6 feet 9, 340 pounds, Baltimore's biggest bird is considered one of the most dominant blockers of his era, blending unusual athleticism, unexpected emotion and underrated intelligence.

If consistently shutting down the game's best sack masters on a weekly basis doesn't drop jaws, consider this: Ogden's six straight Pro Bowl selections are a product of watching only a half hour of film per week on his own.

He's like that kid in school who never studied but aced every test.

"The game makes sense to him," Ravens offensive line coach Jim Colletto said. "All he has to do is look at things very quickly and he has a good concept."

The secret of Ogden's success is his notebook.

It's a personal journal of sorts in which the 29-year-old phenom keeps detailed notes on every defensive end he's played twice, and it proves more beneficial to him than overloading on game film. With a few flips of a page, he can tell whether a player relies more on speed or power, a swim move or a clubbing style, quick feet or strong hands.

The beat-up spiral notebook suits Ogden's style. It's not flashy on the outside but contains a wealth of knowledge inside.

His well-grounded demeanor comes from his middle-class upbringing in Washington, where his father, Shirrel, is an investment banker, and his mother, Cassandra, is the executive director of a nonprofit organization that helps qualified minority students get into law school.

One of the game's highest-paid players - he has earned more than $30 million over his seven-plus-year career - Ogden has never strayed far from his down-to-earth roots.

He still drives his 1996 Range Rover (the one he bought after his senior year at UCLA) when he returns to his Las Vegas home and is more of a T-shirt-and-jeans type rather than Armani. His teammates say they have seen him wear only one pair of shoes - open-toed leather sandals - since he entered the league in 1996.

"That's just me," Ogden said. "I don't need to have five pairs of sandals. I like the ones I got. It has nothing to do with not wanting to spend money. I just like what I have."

The Ravens have liked what they got in Ogden since making him the franchise's first draft pick in 1996. The game's prototypical tackle, Ogden can block out the sun, not to mention some of the NFL's premier defensive ends.

The coaching staff says it can count the number of sacks allowed by Ogden in the past four years on two hands. Ravens coach Brian Billick can't think of a time that he's had to have a tight end help Ogden to double-team an opponent or have a running back shade to the left side to help with blocking.

In pass protection, Ogden has a massive wingspan and the grace of a ballroom dancer that allows him to steer rushers off his body. In run blocking, he has the leverage and power of a bulldozer to drive a lineman 10 yards off the line of scrimmage.

"He's a true freak of nature," Billick said. "The biggest indicator of J.O.'s ability is every week you look at film and at no point do you see anything that a defense can do to negate J.O. That's an incredible luxury."

Temper, temper

If the Ravens could change one part of Ogden's personality, they would like him to be more of a vocal leader. A loner at heart, he once won an elementary school spelling bee with his back turned to the audience.

Ogden only rubs off on his teammates when he gets rubbed the wrong way. A fire is lit under the Ravens as soon as the usually dormant Mount Ogden erupts.

"He's the temper tantrum king on the team," center Mike Flynn said. "There's nothing better when you walk off the field after a tough series and you see J.O. throwing his helmet. When a helmet is getting thrown, that means there is going to be some butt-kicking going on the next series.

"I've learned a lot from him, especially on Sundays, on how you can be so involved in a game and care so much about winning that you lay it out on the line."

He always wears his emotions on his long, 35-inch sleeves, and his most memorable outburst captured the despair of the Ravens' touchdown drought in 2000.

After quarterback Tony Banks threw a costly interception at the goal line in Washington, Ogden yanked his helmet off, threw it and kicked it despite playing with a sprained ankle.

"I understand at times that people are going to get beat or a receiver is not going to get open," Ogden said. "But the little things that we shouldn't do irritate me more than anything else. I just hate losing."

Ogden's desire can be traced back to the first time he strapped on a helmet.

As a fifth-grader standing about 5 feet 8, Ogden had three weeks to lose 15 pounds to make weight for the little league team. Despite hours of running and sitting in a sauna, he missed the 125-pound cutoff by 3 pounds and couldn't play in a game after a month of practicing.

"He was just so hurt because he really wanted to play football," his father, Shirrel, said. "I think that might have been when he first kind of started enjoying football."

Three years later, Ogden finally could take the field, and the rest is NFL lineman history.

"It was very gratifying to see him out there enjoying himself," his father said, "doing what all his friends had been doing for years."

'Frugal' with his money

The only thing Ogden protects better than his quarterback is his wallet.

His teammates and family members joke with him constantly about being cheap.

"Frugal is his choice of words," his father said.

When the linemen go out to eat, the bill doesn't get passed down to Ogden without a fight.

"With J.O., it's usually going to be Dutch," left guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "That has been the issue for so long that we've pretty much accepted it. He likes to know where he is spending his money."

That perception is sort of a bad rap.

Over the past couple of years, he has been splurging on an 11,000-square-foot house that is being built on a golf course in Las Vegas. Some of the perks will be a home theater and gym.

Beyond that, he spends more on his family than himself.

When he received a contract extension in 2000, he used some of his $12 million signing bonus to buy his father a Mercedes. When he goes to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, he pays for at least 10 relatives and friends to share in his reward.

"He's frugal when it comes to himself," Ogden's father said.

Hall of Fame-bound

For a kid who idolized the Hogs, Ogden moves more like a cat.

A big fan of the Washington Redskins' smash-mouth offensive line growing up, Ogden has redefined the position with his ability to run as well as he can hit. The Ravens estimate that one-third of running back Jamal Lewis' 3,302 career yards have come behind Ogden.

One of the offensive staples this season has been Ogden pulling on sweep plays and being the lead blocker 10 yards downfield for Lewis.

"When you see something like that, you realize that's why he's gone to the Pro Bowl and why he's going to go to the Hall of Fame," Flynn said. "There's only a handful of guys in the history of the game with his size and the way he can move."

Said Kansas City Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil: "He is so big, but he can play like a guy that plays the same position 30 pounds lighter."

USA Today's Sports Weekly recently rated Ogden as the No. 1 player in the league.

"He's the best in the game," Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor said.

Over his career, Ogden's highlights have included: routine one-armed takedowns of defensive ends; sprinting nearly the length of the field to catch St. Louis Rams cornerback Taje Allen and prevent an interception return for a touchdown; and clearing a path by knocking down two players on a goal-line play against Dallas.

"There's nothing he can't do," Billick said. "He can make a mistake and he's so athletic that he can recover in a way most people can't."

When the Tennessee Titans announced they would move Jevon Kearse to the left side, Ogden's father said, "You better get in shape because you got Jevon this year."

Ogden smiled back at him and said, "That's not my problem. That's Jevon's problem."

Retirement plan?

Ogden has given thought about the end of the line.

The cornerstone of the franchise with linebacker Ray Lewis, Ogden has been thinking long term because he turns 30 next year and recently got engaged. With a contract that extends through the 2006 season, he has yet to decide whether to play beyond that year.

"[The future] always goes through my mind," Ogden said. "I don't have a whole lot more, maybe three, four or five years. It depends on me wanting to still play. Right now, I still love playing. But who knows in four years?"

History says he can last longer. He has never had a major surgery and has started 112 of the Ravens' 116 regular-season games at one of the game's toughest positions, including 46 straight.

And come game days, everyone knows where Ogden's heart and head will be: adding another chapter to his storied career and spiral notebook.

"He says four years, but I think he'll wind up playing more than that," his father said. "Unless he finds something that really captures his passion, I don't think he's going to leave it as soon as he thinks he will."

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