Ugoh Has Learned to Put Tough Plays Behind Him, Dungy Says
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – The lesson didn't come easily or quickly.
But for Colts left offensive tackle Tony Ugoh, the lesson did come, and now that he has learned it, he said he clearly sees its value.
Ugoh, thrust into the starting lineup last season a year before he originally expected, said his rookie NFL season was difficult at times. At times, he said, he was too hard on himself, and at times he let mistakes linger in his mind too long.
Now, entering his second season, he said he has learned from that.
The difference, he said, is all the difference.
"The first four or five days from last year to this year, I definitely feel a lot better," Ugoh said this week at 2008 Training Camp, which continued Friday with a pair of practices at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.
The difference, Colts coaches said this week, is more than a feeling for Ugoh.
It's reality, and can be seen not only in the former University of Arkansas standout's play on the field, but his mental approach to the game.
"Athletically, you could see it was there," Colts Offensive Line coach Howard Mudd said. "Now, he's playing it. . . . I feel real good about where Tony Ugoh is. He's become a veteran."
Ugoh wasn't originally expected to need to become a veteran quite so soon.
A second-round selection in the 2007 NFL Draft, Ugoh worked as a backup during his first off-season with the Colts, the idea being that he would learn at first before becoming the Colts' left tackle of the future.
That changed shortly before 2007 Training Camp.
Tarik Glenn, a 10-year veteran and a Pro Bowl selection from 2004-2006, retired during the week before camp. Ugoh moved into the starting lineup on the first day of training camp, holding the position throughout his rookie season. He missed five games in October and November, but started 11 regular-season games and one in the postseason.
Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy noted this past offseason that Ugoh matured as a rookie on a "pressurized stage, week in and week out."
"You're getting the best pass-rusher and you're playing high-profile games," Dungy said in February. "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."
Dungy this week said Ugoh's process of learning to not worry about past difficult plays is a common one for young NFL players, a process he handled well.
"I think that's one thing all guys learn," Dungy said. "You're so used to being a dominant player in high school and college and not really having any problems on the field. In the NFL, they're all close games. You're playing against good players. You're going to win some battles and you are going to lose some battles. That's one thing a lot of guys have to adjust to. I think Tony went through that last year.
"I think he's playing a lot more relaxed and a lot more focusing on the next play."
Mudd said he has noticed major improvement from Ugoh during this year's training camp, particularly in his ability to hone specific aspects of his game.
"It makes so much more sense," Mudd said. "Now, he can take one part of a particular technique and improve it. Then, he can see the real good results of improving just one part of it.
A year ago, Mudd said on Wednesday, Ugoh "would get hung up on improving one part of it, then something else went to pot. Today, we did that and said, 'OK, you've got that now. Now, let's focus on the next part.' Last year, he couldn't do that. He would get hung up and dwell on only one part of it."
Said Ugoh, "Coming in last year, I was trying to get the system down, Now, I have the system down and I'm working on technique."
Ugoh, who said he weighs about the same as last year but is leaner and stronger after a spring in the offseason conditioning program, said he is looking forward the preseason, and Sunday's preseason opener against the Washington Redskins in the Hall of Fame Game.
"It gives you a chance to perfect your craft," he said. "I do look forward to the preseason games."
But while he is looking forward to the games, and while he very much wants to perfect his craft as quickly and thoroughly as possible, Ugoh said this season he will do so with the perspective of a second-year player, perspective earned in a rookie season full of lessons learned.
"It depends on the person, but for me, it was tough," Ugoh said. "It took me almost the whole year to get it down. I'm a tough critic of myself. I expect to get everything right. If I didn't get something right, I'd beat myself up on it.
"I don't harp on the past like I did last year. That was one thing I really needed to work on. I would get down if I did something bad and start spiraling downward. I had to get over that and let the last play be the last play and sort of move on and forget about it.
"I'm doing a much better job of that this year."