Ravens offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Simeon Rice don't need to be introduced to each other.
They graduated from college the same year and were on the same All-America teams. Rice was the No. 3 overall pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 1996, and Ogden went one slot later to the Ravens. They have kicked, scratched, fought and cursed each other during four matchups in their NFL careers.
So when they meet Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in the opener for both teams, they won't have a lot to say to each other.
"I haven't figured that one out yet, what I'm going to say," Ogden said. "I always like to say something on the first series. It's like [the Pittsburgh Steelers'] Joey Porter. I always say, `What's up, J.P.,' and then we get after it. It's a battle, extremely hard-fought. You say something because it's a mutual respect kind of thing. Sims [Simeon] is definitely one of the best around."
Ogden vs. Rice will be the game's premier matchup, with Ogden protecting quarterback Steve McNair's blind side. In the preseason, the Bucs moved Rice around at both end positions, a move that could cause serious problems for the Ravens when Rice is on the left against Tony Pashos. But Ogden vs. Rice is just as intriguing because Ogden isn't in top condition yet.
He missed most of the preseason because his father, Shirrel, died days before training camp opened.
There has been steady progress, but the old Ogden hasn't showed up yet.
"I'm not 100 percent, but I'm way better than I was a couple of weeks ago," Ogden said. "It's tough to say where I'm at as far as conditioning. I'm almost there, but I'm not where I want to be. I'll keep plugging. I got Simeon this week, but it's no big deal."
Ogden is not being disrespectful. That's not his style. He knows what Rice brings on Sundays, and that he has 119 career sacks.
Rice is a tenacious speed rusher who is as fast as most quarterbacks. On every snap, Rice must be accounted for by one and sometimes two players. In eight of his 10 seasons, Rice has compiled 10 or more sacks and has 56 1/2 during the past four years, which is more than the Miami Dolphins' Jason Taylor, Indianapolis Colts' Dwight Freeney and New York Giants' Michael Strahan.
Disrespect? No way.
"He's a hell of a player," said the 6-foot-9, 345-pound Ogden. "You can't say anything against him. He has great athleticism and is long, fast and very agile. He can change direction really fast, and he has surprising power. This will be a good measuring stick for me."
Ogden has had decent success against the 6-5, 268-pound Rice. In their four encounters, Rice has 17 tackles and only one sack. But there have been numerous times when he pressured the quarterback and forced him to move. Until Freeney became a pain in Ogden's career during the past two years, no one had as much success against Ogden as Rice.
Freeney is sheer speed, a blur that can twist in and out like a tornado. Ogden says Freeney is faster than a lot of cornerbacks in the league. Rice has a full repertoire of moves and is underrated as a complete player.
No one knows better than Ogden.
"People say he is a little soft on the run," Ogden said. "He's not the biggest guy in the world, but I think he does what he had to do to survive against the run. Freeney has that spin move, but Sims is sneaky, crafty. He uses his hands a lot to grab yours, and then he'll rip, or he'll try a swim [move]. He'll try to spin or bull rush you. Then when he gets you off balance, he has the power to throw you."
Being in position, though, is one of Ogden's strengths. He's a technician, able to keep opponents away from his body with his long arms. Very seldom is he out of position, and even then, it's not for long. Compared to his standards, Ogden struggled last season. After 10 seasons, he hired a personal trainer during the offseason.
He looked great during minicamps in May and June, a toned, muscular, 335-pound specimen. But he was inactive for three weeks while his father was ill leading up to training camp. He's still 10 to 15 pounds above his playing weight, and his condition could become a factor Sunday if it's hot in Tampa.
Meanwhile, Rice is known as much for his grueling workouts as his flamboyancy.
"It's going to be tough, especially on the road," Ogden said. "But, hey, that's what they pay us for. I've done OK against him. I can't remember him doing anything major; I just seem to remember a hit or two. Sims and I have a history. We've been through it all, so this is just one more time."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun