Ogden: 'It's going to be tough'

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Jonathan Ogden sighed, smiled and became serious for a moment, pausing along his route to the stationary bicycle while clutching a Michael Crichton novel. The Baltimore Ravens' nine-time All-Pro left offensive tackle knows what looms on his personal horizon. It's an encounter with his arch-nemesis, Simeon Rice, as the Ravens open the season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Rice is the ultra-fast, talkative, flamboyant defensive end with the long arms, deceptive strength and distinctive Muhammad Ali rap. "I have a lot of respect for him," Ogden said of Rice, who finished third in the NFL last season with 14 sacks. "It's going to be tough, I ain't going to lie, but I'm going to compete like I always do. The X-factor is going to be my stamina because when we get down there it will be hot." Rice tells anyone who will listen that he's the greatest pass rusher ever even though Lawrence Taylor, Deacon Jones and Michael Strahan could offer winning arguments. It's Rice, though, who has tackled more quarterbacks than anyone else over the past four seasons with a steady drumbeat of 56 ½ sacks. He has 119 career sacks, a number topped only by Strahan (129 ½) amongst active players. "I'm on my way to being the best ever, period," Rice declared this month to Florida reporters. "I mean, that's what it is, you know what I mean?" Ogden is charged with the critical assignment of protecting the blind side of new franchise quarterback Steve McNair. Normally, there wouldn't be as much scrutiny of Ogden in this high-profile matchup. Except this hasn't been a normal summer for his family. His father, Shirrel Ogden, died days before training camp began. A fixture at practices and games, the former Howard University football standout was always there for his sons, Jonathan and Marques. Now, Ogden is dealing with his grief and adjusting to the fact that his father won't be there in the stands. Plus, he's playing catch-up after missing training camp for personal reasons and is trying to shed 15 to 20 pounds gained during his ordeal. "My footwork, it's still not where it needs to be," Ogden said. "It's close and it's almost there. It better be right by Sunday. "I'm doing OK. I'm still behind where I would like to be. I'm definitely almost ready to go." Traditionally, Ogden has had trouble with Rice and increasing difficulty with elite speed rushers in recent years, including the likes of Dwight Freeney. At 6-foot-9 and 340 pounds with nimble feet that belies his massive size, Ogden usually neutralizes pass rushers with his agility and muscle. At 6-5 and 268 pounds, Rice represents a blend of pure speed honed by running sprints with a parachute tied to his waist and surprising strength even though he lacks the bulk of a big weight lifter. Rice also has an extensive, unorthodox repertoire of pass-rushing moves, although he relies heavily on his superior quickness and closing speed. "He's very unpredictable, and that's what makes him successful," Ogden said. "You've got to be technically sound to block him. "He's very smart about how he plays football. That's one reason why he ends up with 10 to 12 sacks every year because he knows what he's doing." Rice certainly doesn't lack for confidence, calling his imprint on the game his testimony. Rice, who used to play in the United States Basketball League for fun, even compared his football abilities to NBA stars LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. "In the end, I sit on top," Rice said. "That's how I look at it. That's the way it is." In the history of the league, only four players have had more seasons with 10 or more sacks than Rice: Bruce Smith (13), Reggie White (12), Kevin Greene (10) and John Randle (nine). Rice, 32, has generated eight such seasons, a mark tying him with Richard Dent, Chris Doleman and Leslie O'Neal. He needs just 11 ½ sacks to eclipse Hall of Fame end Lee Roy Selmon on the Buccaneers' all-time list. "I play to cement my name in this game forever," said Rice, who has averaged 13 ½ sacks since signing with Tampa Bay in 2001. "I play to help this team get to a Super Bowl. I got the paper. I got the Benjamins. "I got the Ferraris. I got the big cars and the houses. I've been to places that many people can't even talk about, and that's all a tribute to hard work." Entering his 11th season, Ogden's career is also a tribute to dedication and physical gifts that prompted Baltimore to draft him fourth overall in 1996, one spot after the Arizona Cardinals tabbed Rice. "I've been through it all," Ogden said. "I've been playing against Simeon Rice forever, so this is one more go-round for me." Ogden's teammates aren't concerned about him, not even with the unique circumstances he's going through. They expect him to do the same thing he's been doing for a decade: protect the quarterback and clear pathways for the running game. "J.O. is going to show up, so we don't have to worry about J.O," running back Jamal Lewis said. "His game speaks for itself. He'll be ready to roll." Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times.

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