Commentary

Ogden was prototype tackle of his era

The retirement of 11-time Pro Bowl tackle Jonathan Ogden means the NFL is losing a man who not only paved the way for running backs but also future offensive lineman, writes John Clayton.

Originally Published: June 12, 2008
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Jonathan OgdenDoug Pensinger/Getty ImagesJonathan Ogden kept opposing defenders out of the backfield with his 6-foot-9, 345-pound frame.
Now that Jonathan Ogden of the Baltimore Ravens has officially retired, the scenario I've feared for the past couple of years has come to fruition.

His retirement begins the close of perhaps the greatest blocking era in NFL history. Ogden came into the league in 1996 along with Bengals right tackle Willie Anderson. The 1997 draft produced Orlando Pace, Walter Jones and Tarik Glenn. The following year brought William Thomas and Flozell Adams into the league.

Those seven tackles have gone to a combined 40 Pro Bowls. More than anything else, that three-year cycle of tackles changed the game, and it all started with Ogden.

What made the 6-foot-9, 345-pound tackle so great was that he was so much more dominating than those who went against him. He towered over his opponents but was able to lower his basketball-style body into blocking stances that prevented even the shortest defensive ends from getting past him. His ability to consistently nullify the opponent's right defensive end or best pass-rusher without blocking help from teammates opened up offenses to where they are today.

With Ogden taking out the best pass-rusher, Ravens offensive coaches were able to free a tight end on routes downfield instead of keeping him around the offensive line for double-team blocks.

Pace followed shortly, and before long, Mike Martz, the Rams' offensive coordinator during their Super Bowl championship year in 1999, was able to send all his receivers on routes because he felt confident Pace could buy time for Kurt Warner to stay upright in the pocket. More and more teams with a left tackle cut from the Ogden mold were able to spread the field with receivers and watch their passing numbers prosper.

To truly understand Ogden's effect, you have to go back to the era he entered in 1996. The league was struggling on offense. Most of the starting quarterbacks were aging and well into their 30s, while few quarterbacks were coming out of college with the ability to play. By the late 1990s, the situation was so desperate that a quarterback could play a season in NFL Europe, come back the next year and start.

Teams were scoring an average of 20.45 points per game and attempting 33.26 passes a game with 19.1 completions in 1996. Quarterbacks were being victimized for 2.3 sacks a game. Brett Favre dominated because he was Brett Favre. Others struggled.

The three-year tackle evolution -- and there were other left tackles from those three drafts who started -- formed a foundation for teams to begin the passing evolution that has continued into today. With more receivers spreading the field, quarterbacks didn't have to drop back seven steps to pass. Quicker, more viable receiving options were available.

The evolution also allowed the league to get younger and better at quarterback. Last season's throwers completed 20.36 of their 33 pass attempts a game. Twenty-four quarterbacks completed 60 percent of their passes. Sacks dropped to 2.15 per game.

Unfortunately, Ogden never had a great quarterback who could take advantage of all the options that were open to the Ravens' offense, but whenever the quarterback play was good enough, the Ravens won. Steve McNair came over with experience in 2006, and the Ravens won 13 games. And when Trent Dilfer, a smart signal-caller, was under center, the Ravens won a Super Bowl in 2000.

Game-changers come around maybe once a decade, and Ogden, in my opinion, was the game-changer at left tackle. He was a human mountain at the position and an amazing athlete who could position his body between a defensive end and his quarterback. Whether blocking on a running play or a pass play, Ogden won his assignment.

I can think of only a couple of positions in modern history that have had such an influx of talent in such a short period of time, changing the game like the mid-1990s changed left tackle.

John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly were part of the great draft class of 1983. Warren Moon and Steve Young entered the league in 1984 and 1985, respectively. They all had Hall of Fame careers and set new standards for play at quarterback. This was right when the NFL was making the turn from a running league to a passing league.

The linebacker position changed in 1981, thanks to Lawrence Taylor. Taylor was a college defensive end Bill Parcells turned into a linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Given the extra couple of steps and the ability to stand up before the start of plays, Taylor was unblockable. Mike Singletary also was part of that 1981 draft, and his vision and ability to read plays set new standards at middle linebacker. Andre Tippett of the Patriots, another version of Taylor, entered the league in 1982.

Football changed for the better, thanks to their contributions.

Although he was a quiet, thoughtful person, Ogden also changed the perception of blockers. He changed the pay structure of the league, making left tackle one of the top-paid positions in the sport, with salaries equivalent to those of quarterbacks. Left tackle Jake Long of the Dolphins just received a $10 million a year contract as the first pick in the draft.

Ogden protected quarterbacks, and his agent, Marvin Demoff, creatively found ways to keep his salary at levels no one ever expected for what once was considered an anonymous position.

It will be interesting to see how many of the top left tackles from those three years make the Hall of Fame. Ogden should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He went to 11 Pro Bowls. Retired Chiefs and Saints tackle Willie Roaf, who was part of the class of 1993, has a good chance, too. He also went to 11 Pro Bowls. Jones has gone to eight Pro Bowls, and Pace has gone to seven. Both of them have a chance.

It was a marvelous era for blocking, and I wonder how the game will change as these tackles filter out of the league. Jones still is at the top of his game in Seattle, but he has been bothered by shoulder problems the past couple of seasons. Pace is starting to fight injuries. Glenn surprisingly retired last year. Adams signed an extension with the Cowboys during the offseason.

Joe Thomas of the Browns offers hope for the future with last year's Pro Bowl season as a rookie in Cleveland. And the seven tackles taken in the first round of the 2008 draft will help fill the void.

But don't expect the level of play provided by Ogden and his contemporaries. He was part of a special time for this league. He will be missed.

John Clayton, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame writers' wing, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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