Good on His Own, Tony Ugoh Is Even Better by Comparison
It turns out that this Colts offense is somewhat fond of throwing the ball. Also, my extensive research indicates that, in American football, the left tackle is the one directly responsible for keeping the quarterback from being attacked from the blind side. With these factors in mind, Tony Ugoh, a rookie playing the most important position on the line for one of the league's most pass-focused teams, had a season successful enough that he could already be considered one of the league's premier tackles. He's only played 11 pro games, but Ugoh's so far put forth a shining performance, especially when compared to others with the same job title.
The easiest way to qualify Ugoh's season is by looking at what he didn't do, namely all that much bad. He was whistled for exactly one false start and no holding penalties over the entire year, which is as amazingly notable as watching a Will Ferrell movie and laughing. Hey, maybe he'll make a dreadfully half-baked football film next!
Even better, Ugoh allowed a paltry total of 1.5 sacks. That fantastically minuscule number looks even more impressive when judged against the sums conceded by a few of the league's best left tackles. For example, Flozell Adams of the Cowboys surrendered 3.5 sacks last season, although, unlike Ugoh, he started every game. Further, perhaps-soon-retired Raven Jonathan Ogden was victimized for 2.5 sacks in 2007 while appearing in the same number of games as the rookie.
Matt Light of the Patriots gave up 6.5 sacks over the course of his team's perfect (regular) season. Meanwhile, Jason Peters of the Bills, often considered the position's emerging embodiment, allowed six during 2007 in an admittedly worse situation offensively; he also played 15 games, four more than his Indianapolis equivalent. Regardless, Ugoh kept perhaps the most important player in the game upright on virtually every play, as he was beaten on fewer occasions than some of the NFL's best at the spot.
To be fair, there is the question of who's most responsible for the paucity of sacks Indianapolis suffers. Including the two Jim Sorgi sustained in their meaningless season finale, Colts quarterbacks were brought down only 23 times in 2007; that was seventh-fewest in the league. Part of that has to be attributed not only to Peyton Manning's sense for pressure but also the coolly capable way in which he eludes rushers and releases the ball quickly.
Still, even though Manning is adept at avoiding sacks, particularly for someone who didn't double as a high school and college track star, he can't do it alone. At least some of the credit must be doled out to the man quelling flank attacks from that week's right defensive lineman, and in that sense Ugoh could have been a rookie of the year candidate if 1) he made more appearances, 2) blockers ever got recognition for anything, and 3) Adrian Peterson didn't happen to be in the same draft class. While both Manning and the line kept sack totals low before Ugoh joined the team, the rookie has to be praised for stepping in and helping to prolong that tendency.
The biggest problem with Ugoh is not regarding his talent but whether he can stay on the field and make use of same talent. He missed a stretch of five games during his rookie campaign because of neck and shoulder troubles; he also sprained an ankle versus the Texans in late September, although that didn't cause him to be excused from any live action.
Perhaps it was coincidental, but the games he sat out happened to include the Colts' two significant regular-season losses. On the other hand, perhaps it most certainly was not: In those games against New England and San Diego, Manning was sacked a total of five times. That decreases the likelihood that it was just random chance; there's an absolute correlation between Ugoh sitting out and the squad's bad stretch.
It's better that durability is the issue rather than skill, but Ugoh still needs to find a way to stay off the injured list. A statistically fine rookie season is evidence that he did far more than simply coast on the efforts of his talented, established teammates. That's especially obvious when he's either held against other top tackles in the league or isn't on the field.
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