This is a big year for Colts left tackle Tony Ugoh, and he knows it. And like all players who have showed flashes of promise but have not (as yet) totally lived up to expectations, Ugoh has his proponents and his detractors. ESPN's Paul Kuharsky decided to ask a few key NFL people to weigh in on Ugoh. What he got was a mixed bag of opinions. Here's some from the seemingly anti-Ugoh crowd:
An unnamed "AFC personnel man"
He does have some trouble with his anchor. People can get under his pads and push him back. He's not a real physically strong guy. He lacks pop and explosion... I don't know if it's fair questioning the guy's heart. Because from what I saw coming out of college and on this level, the guy plays with an effort. I just don't think that's him. The nastiness, some guys can do it, some guys have that naturally. He's a guy that tries to play the game without getting his uniform dirty.
A "current NFL defensive lineman"
I think he's got all the tools. He's tall, athletic, he's got long arms. I don't know if he's as mentally tough as he probably needs to be. He can let up.
Yikes! Ouch! Questioning a man's toughness, especially an offensive lineman's, is a big slap in the face. So nice that this defensive lineman chose to bash Ugoh anonymously. Maybe it was Vince Wilfork, who still has trouble remembering his own name since the 2006 AFC Championship Game when Jeff Saturday planted him into the old RCA Dome turf on Joseph Addai's winning TD score.
But, to be fair, the criticisms leveled against Ugoh are similar to ones we fans have made. But what about the pro-Ugoh crowd. As always, Bill Polian makes his opinion clear and... well, blunt:
First of all, as a general rule, anyone who questions a professional football player's toughness should come out here and just go through the warm-up. Let's start with that, because a normal person wouldn't make it through the warm-up. But then to question a professional football player's toughness is ludicrous. How do you make a team and not be tough? It's insane.
It is my suggestion that the unnamed NFL defensive lineman who questioned Ugoh's toughness should avoid Mr. Polian in the near and distant future. But opinions from folks such as these have less weight when compared to the 2008 MVP's assessment on his left tackle.
And besides [being a] quarterback, I'm a little biased, I think left tackle might be the second-toughest job to play as a rookie, just getting used to the speed, and it never does a lot for your confidence having to block Dwight Freeney every day in practice. That can be tough on a man's psyche.
"Tony is a great athlete, he's strong, he has good feet. He's worked hard in this offseason. Hopefully, we can keep him healthy. Obviously, he's important playing that left tackle spot, and we'll need him to have a big year this year. From what I've seen in this offseason his work ethic has hopefully taken him in the right direction.
Kuharsky himself offers a few more nuggets of insight into Ugoh heading into 2009 (emphasis mine):
The insiders are going to defend a draft pick/a teammate no matter what, though they might have allowed for questions about Ugoh's durability. Perhaps Manning's mention of Ugoh's work ethic helping him now suggests that it hasn't always.
Ugoh doesn't have to be Glenn, he doesn't have to be a mauler. He does have to be stronger, better, and more consistent.
Kuharksy's suggestion about Ugoh's work ethic seems counter to what Ryan Lilja said a month ago. What's clear from the article is that Ugoh was bothered by a nasty knee injury for much of last season. Perhaps a healthy knee, combined with a potentially improved work ethic, will push Ugoh to become as good as many think he can be. Ugoh also provides a nice quote for Kuharsky, proving that class and dignity are still hallmarks of Colts players:
I wouldn't criticize anybody's toughness.
Let's hope Ugoh never finds out the name of the defensive lineman who thought it prudent to question his toughness anonymously to an ESPN writer.
Actually, never mind. Let's hope he does, and then Vince Wilforks the punk into the Luke turf!