Second-Year Left Tackle Ugoh Feels Good Entering 2008 Season
INDIANAPOLIS - All in all, Tony Ugoh liked what he saw.
And all in all, he figures he ought to like it even more this season.
Ugoh, the Colts' second-round selection in the 2007 NFL Draft, said he didn't play perfectly last season. He also said because he's his own toughest critic, he saw plenty to criticize in the 11 games he started at left tackle last season.
But he also said this:
He did a lot of good things, and played well at times.
And he expects to play better this season.
"I feel really good going into the offseason, especially the way I finished out last year," Ugoh said before the Colts' 2008 veteran/rookie minicamp, which is being held Friday through Sunday at the team's practice facility.
"I figure if I could start this year where I finished off last year, I'd be in good shape."
Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said Ugoh not only finished last year strong, he played well enough - and consistently enough – for the Colts' offense to function at a high level, finishing third in the NFL in points scored and fifth in total offense.
Not an easy task, Dungy said, particularly for a rookie protecting a quarterback's blind side.
And particularly for a team playing for a division title.
"Playing that spot and doing it on such a pressurized stage, week-in and week-out, you're getting the best pass rusher and you're playing high-profile games," Dungy said. "Normally, guys get plugged in at left tackle, you're the fourth or fifth pick in the draft and you're on a team that's growing the same way, so as they learn, the growing pains aren't as much.
"He couldn't afford that. We're playing and winning and every game is a big game. He was able to step in and play at a high level from Day One."
Few around the Colts doubted Ugoh would play at a high level.
But few expected him to have to do so so soon.
Ugoh, who played at the University of Arkansas, was selected with the 10th selection of the second round draft in 2007, with the Colts trading their first-round selection in this year's draft for the chance to select him. The idea, Colts President Bill Polian said at the time, was for Ugoh to develop behind three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tarik Glenn.
The idea lasted only a few months.
A few days before the Colts reed to 2007 training camp, Glenn announced his retirement. When the Colts opened camp the following Monday, Ugoh was in the starting lineup.
"I wasn't expecting it at all," Ugoh said. "Going back home, I heard Tarik retired. People were like, 'Oh, you're going to be a starter.' I was like, 'They have other people there. I'm a rookie. We'll see what happens.' I came back and got thrown into the fire.
"I didn't have a whole first year to play backup and watch and learn the system. I pretty much had training camp until we started the preseason games. I had to speed up the learning process."
Ugoh started the first six games of the regular season, then missed the next five games with a neck injury.
"I had some time off to kind of evaluate myself then," Ugoh said. "I saw a lot of improvement. It was kind of like an off-season for me. I got to really evaluate myself for the five weeks I was off.
"When I came back, I pretty much came back like a new player."
Overall last season, Ugoh said, "I feel like I did pretty well. I'm pretty hard on myself. I'm a real hard critic of myself. I feel like I have room for a lot of improvement, but I feel like I handled myself OK as a rookie. I continued to get better throughout the season. It wasn't a standstill and I didn't digress during the season. I actually progressed, so that was a really good thing."
It's progress Dungy said could continue this season. Dungy often has said the biggest improvement a player makes typically comes between his first and second season. Ugoh said he sees why that is true, and said the improvement comes as much from a player's mental approach as from physical development.
"You don't have that learning curve where you're taking time out to learn," Ugoh said. "You're working and you already know the system, so from Day One, you're just working on getting better and not really working on trying to learn the system. That cuts out a whole aspect of the training process.
"Looking at it now, you just point out your own mistakes. You don't have to have somebody tell you where you messed up. You've been trained, so you know what coach expects from you. You know what you should have done and what you could have done.
"You can really watch and evaluate yourself to really know what you're looking at."
Ugoh has been in the team's off-season workout program since it began in late March. Having spent the weeks just before that resting for the first time in more than a year, he said he returned focused on learning from his rookie experience.
"It helps a lot, just being able to train this whole time and train from the beginning – for football purposes – and not have the combine or any of that stuff to work on," Ugoh said. "Your body gets a chance to actually rest for the first time in about year. That's really a big deal, just getting a chance to sit down and relax before you get into it.
"Then, when you get back into it, get into it hard."
Ugoh said experience – even if it's just one season's worth helps during this time of the offseason. Veterans often talk of feeling changed during the offseason following their rookie season. Whereas a year before, every day was a new experience in the offseason, following the rookie season a player better knows what to expect.
"Really, things can slow down for you, because you've been through everything before," Ugoh said. "This is going through everything the second time."
This season, Ugoh will go through a regular season for a second time. Ugoh said he expects experience will help more then, a big reason he expects to like even more about what he'll see.
"The players you face next year, with addition of some rookies this year, will actually be the same players you faced (last season) for the most part – with the exception of the change of teams and schedule," Ugoh said. "The game will slow down for you, because it's your second time through. You know what to expect."