Blindside protector

Other than quarterback, no position is more crucial to an offense's success than left tackle. Three of the league's top four offenses in 2006 have Pro Bowlers protecting their quarterbacks' blindsides.

There will be several teams looking to upgrade that key position heading into next season and all wanting eyes will be taking a long look at Tony Ugoh.

A 6-foot-5, 305 lb. tackle from Arkansas, Ugoh has all the qualities teams look for in elite left tackles. He is an athlete with the quickness to handle speed rushers and the power to anchor against the bull rush.

Ugoh enjoyed considerable success as a collegian. As a senior, he helped drive the nation's fourth-best rushing attack as the Hogs averaged a phenomenal 228.5 yards per game. The Arkansas line was equally impressive in pass protection, allowing only nine sacks in 14 games, the second best rate in the country.

No player was more vital to that success than Ugoh. He registered five or more knockdowns in 11 of his 14 games as a senior (he totaled 72 on the season), earning him first-team All-SEC honors. He was named second-team All-American by both and

"I love playing ball and I'm very competitive," Ugoh said.

That competitive fire was on full display down in Mobile, Ala. during Senior Bowl week. Ugoh seemed comfortable playing in space and utilized his strong punch well. He was a little inconsistent in his technique and could have done a better job of getting his shoulders square but left a favorable impression overall.

Although his performance was hardly flawless, his shortcomings were all of the correctable variety. Fortunately for the team that drafts him, Ugoh is willing to work to take his game to the next level.

"Every aspect of my game needs improvement. I haven't peaked yet," he said.

In order to advance his progress, Ugoh has been studying the elite tackles in the NFL, and taking what he can from each of their styles.

"I try to watch everybody's positives and negatives and pick off of everybody's style. I wouldn't compare myself to any one person," he said.

Apparently, that hard work is paying off because several NFL teams have taken notice of the ample progress he has shown. During Senior Bowl week, confirmed he talked to representatives from the San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Diego Chargers, Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers and St. Louis Rams, among others.

That variety of teams interested in Ugoh is a reflection of his versatility. Clubs believe he can excel in both man and zone schemes.

The success of an offense is more dependant now than ever on stellar play by a dominant left tackle. Whichever team drafts Ugoh, currently rated as a third round pick, must be excited about his potential to develop into exactly that.

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