Want to get a rise out of the normally unflappable Jonathan Ogden? Bring up the toughness issue.
Go ahead. Remind Ogden that, on the surface, he doesn't always act like an NFL offensive lineman. The same way those scouting reports hinted he wasn't mean enough to dominate at the professional level, before the Ravens chose him to be their cornerstone in last year's draft.
Remind Ogden that he lacks the menacing persona commonly associated with the men in the trenches. He is too cheery during the week. His practice habits are, at best, unspectacular. And from his left tackle position on Sunday, he rarely destroys opponents with crowd-pleasing "pancake" blocks.
In street clothes, Ogden, 6 feet 9 and 325 pounds, still looks more like a power forward than one of the game's premier pass blockers. He is not a throwback, save for his unruly Afro hairstyle, which last was fashionable when he was a toddler. Instead of steamrolling defenders, Ogden typically opts for the more efficient, technical approach of taking them out of a play.
Try isolating on Ogden during a game to see how often he gets beat, either when firing off the line to open a running lane or backing up to protect quarterback Vinny Testaverde. You'll probably be watching for quite a while. Ogden last surrendered a sack in the season opener on Aug. 31, against Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Clyde Simmons
Since then, Ogden has swallowed up some of the game's better pass rushers on a weekly basis. Like Washington Redskins linebacker Ken Harvey, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Greg Lloyd and New York Jets right end Hugh Douglas.
Miami Dolphins rookie linebacker Derrick Rodgers offered this assessment of the schooling administered by Ogden during last month's 24-13 Dolphins victory:
"It's hard getting through that big man. There were times when [Ogden] Velcro-ed himself to me."
Not tough enough? As a scowl forms on his face, Ogden recalled the doubters who mistook his finesse for softness, as he capped an All-America career at UCLA.
"What else was there to question about me?" Ogden said. "I read about all of the toughness issues before the draft, about how I was a great pass blocker, but not tough enough as a run blocker. You can't tell how tough a player is just by looking at him or talking to him.
"I don't want to be a monster, but I like people to perceive me as crazy on the field. That comes from loving to play the game. On game day, you get to go out and physically dominate somebody. You get to throw them around. You get thrown in jail if you try that on the street."
A clean record
The Ravens feel pretty safe about the off-the-field doings of their prized property.
Ogden is a few holding penalties short of squeaky clean. He hasn't been in a fistfight since elementary school, which can be explained by physics as well as his non-confrontational nature. As a ninth grader at St. Alban's School in Washington, Ogden measured 6-2, 270. The following summer, he grew five inches.
"I'm so used to looking down at people," he said. "Why would anyone bother me?"
As you walk into his modest, three-bedroom contemporary Owings Mills home, the first thing you notice are the three large, stuffed animals on a couch -- a lion, a tiger and a panda bear he won at the Maryland State Fair.
As he spreads out on the L-shaped, leather couch in his living room, Ogden stares at the screen on his 48-inch television. He complains about the new video game he has yet to master, the rooms he has yet to fill with furniture and the empty walls he has yet to decorate.
Ogden, 23, doesn't smoke, hardly drinks and keeps in close touch with his college sweetheart in Los Angeles. He admits to one vice. A handful of times a year, he will slip out to Las Vegas to hang out at the blackjack tables. But if you're looking for a steady night-life partner, call somebody else. Ogden prefers to remain alone at home, catching a movie or "Monday Night Football."
Or grabbing another snooze.
A sleepy guy
Sleeping might be Ogden's favorite pastime. He's always yawning, rubbing his eyes, always looking like he just took a nap. And if he could somehow make Baltimore's weather resemble the warm, dry, year-round climate he grew accustomed to at UCLA, Ogden would be in ecstasy. In that ideal world, his wardrobe would consist exclusively of shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops.
"We'll get him straightened out with a few nice suits. We'll get him to comb his hair every day. We'll get him to spend some more of that money," said Ravens center Wally Williams, referring to Ogden's seven-year, $15.5 million contract, which included a $6.8 million signing bonus.
As he observes Ogden sitting at his locker horsing around with some fellow linemen, Williams addressed his teammate's elusive mean streak.
"You wouldn't think he's tough, because J.O. isn't what I would call physically intimidating. He's tall, but he's not what I would call a monster. Zeus [right tackle Orlando Brown, 6-7, 350 pounds] is a monster," Williams said.