"That's where we had slated for (Johnson) to play, at left tackle, and he obviously is a guy that's played a number of different positions for us, but that's a key spot," Caldwell said. "What we'll probably do is have Tony actually bounce back and forth to both spots, maybe put him over at the right, behind Ryan Diem. He'll also get a little work at left as well.
"It was something we had, we were slated to do at the onset. Charlie got hurt, but we'll let the two of those guys battle it out and see how they do. Tony is not out of it by any stretch of the imagination. He's still got a chance to keep battling, and just like anything else, we're expecting him to take a step forward and play well."
Johnson doesn't have the mass of Diem, but has been effective nonetheless
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
And, as far as Ugoh is concerned, the move was not a surprise now that Johnson is healthy. "I knew coming into camp that that's the move they wanted to do coming into camp, because I found out actually I guess back in late March, early April," Ugoh said. "They told me I had a chance to prove myself again."
Johnson attempted to downplay his promotion as much as possible. "I just go where I am told. It's been this way for four years now," Johnson said. "I come back they say, 'Go play here.' And I just go play."
In two seasons, Ugoh has started 21 games at left tackle and zero games at right tackle, which makes the statement by Caldwell about Ugoh backing up Diem a little puzzling. If anything, Johnson would be a better backup — or replacement — for Diem, since Johnson started five games for Diem in 2007, as well as filling in during Super Bowl XLI.
Johnson has started a total of 27 games for the Colts since joining the team in 2006, but has played three different positions — right tackle (five starts), left guard (12), and left tackle (nine) — so it would appear as though he is a jack of all trades, master of none.
In addition, Ugoh played left tackle throughout his college career at Arkansas, whereas Johnson is a converted tight end — albeit a blocking tight end — that did not play offensive line until his senior season at Oklahoma State.
Add to the mix that Johnson was a sixth-round pick that may not be needed at left guard and Ugoh was a second-round pick — but, in actuality, he's a first round pick, since Indianapolis traded their 2008 first-round pick for the rights to draft Ugoh in the second round in 2007 — that is more of a natural left tackle, and it would appear as though the Colts are using Johnson to motivate Ugoh.
However, the book on Ugoh has always been that he's an exceptionally gifted athlete that seems to lack the drive, determination, and mean streak required to be an elite left tackle in the NFL. He was a track star at Arkansas, has nimble feet, and runs better than his timed speed of 5.40 seconds in the 40 would imply, but Tom Marino was not impressed with Ugoh heading into the 2007 draft, giving him a late second/early third round grade, and rating him seventh at his position. Marino stated that Ugoh was, "High hipped. Not a finisher. Lacks lower body surge."
Johnson does not look the part of an offensive tackle, nonetheless a left tackle, as he is more squat, has less graceful hips, and is about two inches shorter than Ugoh. Yet, his drive and determination have led him to nine starts at the position and he is currently atop the depth chart.
Ugoh would seem to have the long frame and footwork to excel against speed rushers, whereas Johnson appears to be more of a road grader, fit to work on the inside and not agile enough to get wide on a Mario Williams or Derrick Harvey.
Johnson was abused when he came in for Ugoh in the first game against Jacksonville in 2007, but settled into the position well. Ugoh got healthy, reclaimed his job, and Johnson moved to the right side, where he performed, some would argue, better than Diem. Johnson also makes a lot of sense at left guard, where he started 12 games last season, but Ryan Lilja is back from injury and has looked good so far this offseason.
So far in his career, Ugoh has not had to fight for his job or even wait patiently for the man in front of him to step aside. He was drafted as the left tackle of the future in 2007, someone who could be brought along gradually and take over for Tarik Glenn when he decided to retire.
Glenn moved the timetable for that transition up by at least a season when he retired in July of 2007, just three months after Indianapolis spent a second-round pick on Ugoh. Although he didn't enter camp as the unquestioned starter at left tackle, Ugoh didn't have many challengers and probably would have continued to protect Manning's blindside every game the past two seasons had he not been injured. His injuries, though, left the door open for Johnson and, if history is any indication, Johnson will make the most of his opportunity.
If Ugoh wants his job back, he is going to have to fight for it
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
The Colts have had a generally fair and balanced history of giving the starting nod to the best man for the job, so whoever wins the competition at left tackle will have won it fair and square. Therefore, this is likely not a motivational tool to light a fire under Ugoh for a few weeks, then hand the job over to him whatever the results of the competition.
That having been said, it's fairly clear that the best man for the job is a motivated Ugoh and that Johnson's talents could be better utilized at other positions along the line.
If Ugoh wins the starting job, Indianapolis will have a top-shelf left tackle and a quality backup at both tackle positions, with the possibility of a quality starter to replace Lilja, as well has a possible successor to Diem when his contract runs out. If Johnson wins, the Colts will have a good left tackle, a quality backup at the position, but a man that lacked the determination to beat a less talented player for the head job and lacks the tenacity and ferocity to unseat Diem.
"Honestly, all I can do is just keep working," Ugoh said. "I don't necessarily know exactly what they're looking for. I know ‘When we see this, you'll be back in there.' I was kind of told this is kind of how it was going to be for now, so all I can do is continue to keep working."
Obviously, the Indianapolis coaches are hoping that Ugoh asserts himself and wins the job outright, but it would appear that it's not just going to be given to him without a fight. That's the smart move by the Colts, since handing the job to Ugoh the past two seasons is what got them in this position in the first place.
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