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The Byrne Identity: Jonathan Ogden



As is the case every year in late June and early July, it's quiet around our training complex in Owings Mills. Coaches take 3 to 4 weeks of vacation at this time of year, spending days with families and gearing up for the tough season-long haul. Once the coaches report to camp on July 20 and 21, they will work every day until the season ends. And, their days are long, with most going to late in the evening, including throughout training camp.

The coaches are encouraged to take this vacation and are chastised if they come in the office during this period. Basically, the message is: "You can't come to camp not rested." The players get a similar message from the coaches. They're told, "Now is not the time to beat yourselves up with long, long workouts." Players are taught to continue regular lifting and conditioning workouts, but to make sure they come to camp with fresh legs. Typical of what players do is Bart Scott: "I'll keep a regular workout routine until the week before camp. I'll then take the five or six days before the first practices and just rest," Scott explained.


One great not preparing for camp for the first time in his adult life is the recently-retired Jonathan Ogden. "J.O.," after 12 seasons, including 11 consecutive invites to the Pro Bowl, retired on June 12. The future Hall of Famer, who is focusing on his family and his golf game, will continue to be involved in bettering the Baltimore community. That doesn't surprise me. From his first season in 1996, Jon reached out to help others, especially students in high school. For example, Jon has funded a full-time position at Patterson High School. That person helps students prepare for and apply to colleges. One teacher at the school told me, "There are at least 100 of our students through the years who went to college because of Jonathan's generosity. A lot of the kids had no idea about how to go to college – the whole process: the SATs, what classes and grades are needed, the applications and things like that."

As Steve Bisciotti said after Jonathan's retirement announcement, we won't hesitate putting Jon in our Smyth Jewelers Ring of Honor at M&T Bank Stadium. While Steve indicated that this would happen at the regular season opener on Sept. 7, we've decided to have the celebration later in the season when we believe it will get more attention from the media. Watch for the announcement of that date soon. (My guess is that it will be at halftime of the Oct. 26 contest versus the Raiders.)

On June 11, the day before Jon announced his retirement, he came to our offices to officially let John Harbaugh know his plans. Before getting to coach Harbaugh's office, Jon stopped by mine and let me know the news. So, I got to walk J.O. to Harbs' office. The scene had some humor. Coach Harbaugh greeted Jon with: "Tell me, it's not true. You're not retiring." Ogden said, "Sorry, coach, it's time." With that, they shook hands and gave each other the man-hug. Coach Harbaugh buried his head in the big man's chest and faked crying: "Come back. Please come back."

After they both laughed, Harbaugh, who had been recruiting Ogden to return, asked: "Did we get close to convincing you to play?" Ogden explained that when he had visited with coach Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron two months ago that, "You two made me hesitate." Jon added: "I really had pretty much decided in December that I was playing my last games, but you made me think about it. I like what I heard and like what I'm hearing about what you're doing here."

In the end, it was really Jon's big toe on his left foot that moved him to retire. (Strange that another Hall of Famer, Jack Lambert, considered by some to be the toughest guy in NFL history, retired because of a lingering toe problem.) After Harbs told Jon that he could still be one of the best left tackles in the game, Ogden didn't disagree. "I probably could," Ogden replied, "but it would bother me that I wasn't the best, and I can't be the best anymore. The toe's just not right. I'm not sure I could take getting beat by some guy who I know I could handle if I was 100 percent. Some people don't understand that, but I know it would bother me a lot."

Coach Harbaugh understood. "Jon, that's what made you the best. You have talent, but you also have that great pride to do all the things that separated you from everyone else. I respect that. It would have been great to coach you, but I understand."

Harbaugh then asked Jon if he had any advice for Jared Gaither, the player who is getting the first chance to replace Ogden at left tackle. "I do, and I've let him know before. He needs to be Jared Gaither and not worry about replacing me. He'll be fine. He handled it well last year. He's got talent, and he wants to be good," Ogden said.

I have a lot of memories of working with Ogden through the years. We've had some laughs, and I twisted his arm every now and then to spend some more time with the media. He is a reluctant hero, one who is uncomfortable calling attention to himself. But, he did what was necessary off the field and stepped up in tough times to be a public leader on the team.

The one thing that is obvious about Jon is his size. Now, we work in a business that has a lot of very big people. Heck, we built everything in our building bigger because of the size of the players. But, Jon is big among the big. His dimensions are 6-foot-9, weighing right around 350 pounds. Maybe it's the way he carries himself, but he appears even larger than that. I remember when we took Jon two years ago to meet with the CBS-TV crew that features Phil Simms before one of our games. After Jon left the room, Phil looked over and said: "I forgot how big he is. He's the biggest man I've ever met. He was as tall as the door when he walked in. He's got to be bigger than 6-9, 350," Simms said.

My favorite football memory of Jon came courtesy of our then-head coach Ted Marchibroda. Ted called me into his office and said I had to watch Ogden on this one play. It was a screen pass to Earnest Byner on the right side of the field. Jon's role on the play was to move left from his left tackle spot to fake the defense into believing the play would be going to the offense's left. When Byner caught the ball behind the line of scrimmage, Ogden was 20 yards to the running back's left. Byner took off up field just as Jon started sprinting on an angle behind Byner, trying to catch up with the play. About 40 yards later, Ogden knocked the safety down – in front of Byner. "No other linemen I've ever seen could do that," Ted said. It was remarkable speed for a huge man. (And, it did concern me that our left tackle was a lot faster than our featured running back.)


As we draw closer to training camp – rookies, quarterbacks and selected veterans report on July 21 and first practices open to the public are on July 22 – what are the stories the media will focus on during July and August? Judging from the focus they placed in the offseason, and the questions they are asking us now, here are some of the obvious choices:

A JOHN HARBAUGH TRAINING CAMP: A lot of attention by reporters will be paid to the length of camp and how much "live" football takes place. Veterans will be asked about this all the time: Is this camp harder than previous years? Do you like the pace of camp? Will this camp help make you sharper for the regular season opener? Do you think you're hitting too much? Is camp too long? (By the way, as a new head coach, coach Harbaugh is allowed extra training camp days. Under Brian Billick, the Ravens had the shortest camp in the NFL – 21 days in '07. The Ravens will be at McDaniel College 26 days this summer.) Questions will also be asked about sleeping at training camp. Veterans were allowed to go home after the first 4 days of camp the last 3 seasons. All players will be required to stay nights at the camp this year.

WHO WILL BE THE STARTING QUARTERBACK: Every snap taken by Kyle Boller, Troy Smith and Joe Flacco will be charted by members of the media. Those updates will be easy to find. That scrutiny is not a bad thing. If a quarterback can't handle the media attention easily, how will he handle the multiple looks Marvin Lewis and the Bengals give him on Sept. 7? We'll try to manage the media as best we can, but the reporters have a job to do, and fans will want daily updates on the QB battle. We will not make the QBs available to reporters every day, but these signal callers will probably do more interviews than their teammates. That comes with being a QB.

IS THE DEFENSE TOO OLD TO BE ELITE AGAIN: First, I think it's amazing that Rex Ryan and his fellow coaches coaxed this group to be the 6th best in the NFL in 2007 considering the injuries to the starting cornerbacks and Trevor Pryce, who produced 13 sacks for the Ravens in 2006. Because they got hurt last season, attention will be paid to these 3 Pro Bowlers: Chris McAlister, Samari Rolle and Pryce – all players in their 30s. The microscope is always on Ray Lewis, who just turned 33. Are we concerned that Ray is near the end? Nope, that's why we're offering him a new multi-year contract. Ozzie Newsome, who is paid for such assessments, believes Ray can play at an elite level for years. Oh, by the way, Ray was dominant again in 2007. As I tell out-of-town friends who visit during Ravens home-game weekends: "Watch just No. 52 for a whole series. I think you're watching the greatest defensive player in NFL history. You'll be amazed that he is involved in almost every single tackle." While great attention will be paid to the over-30 club on the Ravens' defense, not enough will focus on two of the best young defenders in the league: Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata – and that Ed Reed guy is not so bad either.

BACKUP CORNERBACKS: When McAlister and Rolle went down in 2007, the Ravens played a variety of very young corners that struggled – mightily at times. Well, those guys are a year older and wiser. But, Ozzie shored up the position with 2 quality veterans, who had outstanding offseason camps. First, the "Wizard" added Fabian Washington in a draft-day trade with the Raiders. Washington is a former No. 1 pick and coach Ryan smiles widely when he sees Fabian on the field. Another young vet at CB is Frank Walker, who we signed as a free agent after he spent last season with the Packers. "We needed proven corners, and Ozzie went out and got them," Ryan has said.

Talk to you in training camp.

- Kevin

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Kevin Byrne is the Ravens' Senior Vice President – Public and Community Relations. He has worked in the NFL since 1977, when he was the then-youngest public relations director in the league (for the then-St. Louis Cardinals), except for the two years he was the Director of Public Affairs for TWA (Trans World Airlines). He has been with the Ravens since they began, and before that was a vice president with the Cleveland Browns. He has won a Super Bowl ring with the 2000 Ravens and an NCAA basketball championship with Al McGuire's Marquette team in '77. He was on the losing end of historic games known for the "Drive" and the "Fumble." He has worked closely and is friends with some of the best in the game: Ozzie Newsome, Brian Billick, Ray Lewis, Bill Cowher, Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Marty Schottenheimer and Shannon Sharpe to name a few.

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