Ogden not ready to hang up cleats

OWINGS MILLS -- It took a personal journey of reflection and countless steps on his tender left big toe before Jonathan Ogden decided to ultimately walk back onto the Baltimore Ravens' practice field. While enduring the dual sting of his hyperextended toe and another bitter early playoff loss, Ogden spent several months pondering retirement.

From his luxurious home in suburban Las Vegas, the All-Pro left offensive tackle took notice as the defending AFC North champions cut Edwin Mulitalo, his close friend and a fixture at left guard, and former Pro Bowl running back Jamal Lewis.

Eventually, it came down to one final, complicated question for the 10-time Pro Bowl selection to answer.

"I just decided I felt I could do some good one more year, at least," Ogden said Wednesday during the Ravens' mandatory minicamp. "This is 12 years coming up, and that's a long time, not to mention college and high school. So, you've got to examine, ‘Do I want to do it still?'

"I came to the conclusion that it still can be fun. It was gradual as the offseason progressed and as the toe was starting to feel better. I woke up one day, saying, ‘You know what? Let's give it one more go.'"

For Ogden, that wasn't an easy conclusion to reach.

Of course, there was his health to consider. Although a turf toe sounds fairly innocuous, it's an extremely painful injury. Especially when you're 6-foot-9, 345 pounds.

Ogden consulted with Dr. Robert Anderson, a North Carolina foot and ankle specialist who's the Carolina Panthers' team orthopedist to see if he would need surgery. Ogden, who injured his big toe Dec. 17 against the Cleveland Browns and returned for the Ravens' 15-6 playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts, was relieved at the prognosis.

"He kind of just recommended that the tendon was still attached to the bone, so surgery wasn't necessary," Ogden said. "He said it's going to be four to six months for it to really get better."

That's why Ogden isn't actively participating in the Ravens' spring football practice sessions, mostly lifting weights and watching drills.

While Ogden didn't declare that this will be his last season, he reiterated that he's basically operating on a year-to-year basis at this juncture.

"I'm sure it's coming soon," Ogden said when asked how much longer he'll play. "This is year 12; I'm not going to be playing for 20 years.

"I'm going to get through this season, do my best like I always do and when the time comes after the season, we'll see what happens. Right now, I'm just trying to focus on getting my toe right and trying to get ready for the season."

One potential distraction Ogden didn't have to contend with while he enjoyed the recreation of golf and poker games was teammates dialing his telephone and urging him to lace up the cleats again.

"They knew not to call me, they knew to leave me alone," Ogden said. "Just let J.O. do what he's going to do. If they'd have called me, I would have said, ‘Leave me alone, people.'"

Added center Mike Flynn: "He's a Hall of Famer, and he's also a friend. We need him out there because of his talent and we really need his leadership, especially with us bringing in some younger guys who can learn a lot from him."

One telling sign that Ogden was likely going to come back was his conditioning levels. The massive lineman has remained relatively svelte considering his training was relatively limited because of the toe injury.

"I knew that if I didn't work out, I wouldn't be coming back," Ogden said.

In deference to Ogden, who had one of his best seasons last year despite missing training camp following his father's death last summer, it's possible that the Ravens will limit his involvement during the beginning of training camp at McDaniel College. It's too early to determine whether he'll be placed on the physically unable to perform list.

"I appreciate that Jonathan is here, but our expectations were for him to not be ready to go until training camp," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We may very well adjust that first week of training camp to make sure that we've got a firm footing underneath him."

Ogden turns 33 on July 31, reaching an age milestone when many football players are retired and limping through their next round of golf. Yet, Ogden still has something driving him to keep going.

"Last year was a great season and a huge disappointment in the playoffs," Ogden said. "I just decided: You know what? The toe's going to be OK, we were close last year and I want to try to get another ring before I go. So, that was basically the deciding factor."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

Ravens Insider Top Stories