Jim Irsay called out LT Tony Ugoh two weeks ago. Yes, he did. Jim Irsay could deny it. Tony Ugoh could deny it. The Colts as a team could deny it.
Jim Irsay called out Tony Ugoh. In other ventures into the obvious: Water is wet; sky is blue; Tom Brady likes goats.
Now, while Irsay was calling out Ugoh for his inconsistent play, he was not making a point to say that Ugoh did not have the talent to succeed. Far from it. Irsay's comments suggested that he expected big things from Ugoh in 2009. Translated: Tony Ugoh must start every game and play at a high level. That is what premiere left tackles (who are paid premiere left tackle money) do. Ugoh's predecessor, Tarik Glenn, missed all of three game in his ten year NFL career.
That is the standard Irsay is holding Ugoh to, fair or not.
Today, on Colts.com, many of Ugoh's teammates seemed to come to Tony's defense; in particular Ryan Lilja:
Ryan Lilja, who started alongside Ugoh in 2007, said "there’s no question (Ugoh) has the toughness and the mentality."
"Nobody works harder than he does," Lilja said. "Nobody is more focused out there than he is. He has the mindset of a (center) Jeff Saturday or (guard) Ryan Diem, a guy who is working on his craft day-in and day-out. This is only Year Three for Tony, but he’s the first guy in, last guy out. He does all the little things right. He’s physically gifted enough, and I think it’s all going to come together for him this year.
That's pretty high praise for a third year lineman, saying he has the mindset of Jeff Saturday, the best center in the NFL. And the revelation that he puts in so much time to better himself should dispel any and all suggests that Tony Ugoh is "lazy." He isn't. Those that say he is are ignorant fools.
I know some around here have started associating the word "bust" with Ugoh. Please, kindly stop this nonsense. Tarik Glenn was one of the best left tackles of his generation. He was better than Jonathan Ogden; better than Walter Jones. Yet, for some reasons, these guys always got more publicity (and more Pro Bowls) than Glenn. After 10 years of dominant LT play, Tarik retired abruptly. This forced Indy to throw a then-rookie Tony Ugoh into the flaming cauldron that is the NFL regular season. Peyton Manning recently spoke about this and said:
"Tony got thrown into the fire early as a rookie," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said. "He got drafted to learn for a year and the next thing you know he’s playing right away. And besides quarterback, 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 (four-time Pro Bowl defensive end) Dwight Freeney every day in practice. That can be tough on a man’s psyche.
When Ugoh has played, he has played brilliantly. We take for granted excellent o-line play, but for a rookie to come in and play LT near the same level as a vet like Tarik Glenn did was something VERY rare and special. The main issue with Tony is not desire, talent, or work ethic.
The issue has been injuries.
A knee problem lingered for Ugoh all last season. He got surgery on the knee this off-season and is now recovered. I know people get annoyed with injuries, but sometimes young players get the bug early on. Remember Reggie Wayne's first three years in football? He was always hurt. People started calling him brittle in 2002. Some were saying "bust." Now, no one questions Reggie Wayne's toughness. Oh, and he's a top 5 WR to boot.
With Ugoh healthy, the Arkansas product looks poised to take a big leap in 2009. If he does, and Ryan Lilja is as healthy as he seems, you will see a dramatic improvement in the Colts running game. Lilja and Ugoh are the team's best run blockers, and their absence in 2008 was a big reason why Indy ranked so low in rushing offense.