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OWINGS MILLS — In a blur of movement that resembles a muscle-bound speed skater bounding forward, Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney is capable of dashing past even the most skilled blockers.
Besides contending with the formidable spin move and upfield burst of an elite pass rusher, the Baltimore Ravens have an extra reason to be concerned.
All-Pro left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, who will be responsible for blocking Freeney and protecting quarterback Steve McNairâ€™s blindside during Saturdayâ€™s AFC divisional playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium, remains questionable with a hyperextended left big toe and acknowledged that heâ€™s unlikely to be at his full capability.
Although Ogden returned to practice Tuesday for the first time since getting hurt Dec. 17 against the Cleveland Browns and missing the final two regular season games, the 10-time Pro Bowl selection was limited in team drills.
â€œI donâ€™t feel 100 percent right now, but I feel a lot better than I did,â€ Ogden said. â€œProgress is still going pretty good. I probably wonâ€™t be 100 percent, but Iâ€™ll be ready to go Saturday.
â€œI pretty much can do just about everything, but I canâ€™t absorb a lot of pressure hitting people just yet. With adrenaline and a few more days, youâ€™ve just got to go. Youâ€™ve got to find a way.â€
Especially when it comes to blocking Freeney, a 6-foot-1, 268-pound athlete who will be giving up eight inches and 78 pounds to the 6-9, 345-pound Ogden.
Freeney only has 5 Â½ sacks this season as teams have concentrated heavily on taking advantage of the NFLâ€™s worst-ranked rushing defense. While defensive end Robert Mathis has racked up a team-high 9 Â½ sacks, Freeney remains a constant threat.
He exploited Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle Jordan Black for two sacks and a forced fumble last week in the Coltsâ€™ 23-8 wild-card win.
â€œHeâ€™s fast obviously, but itâ€™s more his initial get-off,â€ Ogden said. â€œHeâ€™s so quick. Thatâ€™s the problem. He covers two yards so fast and itâ€™s his spin move that you have to be aware of. Weâ€™ve got a good game plan. Weâ€™re going to give him different looks and keep him and the rest of their defensive line on their toes.
â€œIâ€™m not going to lie. Iâ€™m happy the game is here. I donâ€™t think any offensive tackle would want to play him or Mathis on their turf with that noise. At home, I think itâ€™s to my advantage.â€
Freeney has 46 Â½ career sacks in five seasons, including two sacks in a 2004 win over Baltimore at the RCA Dome where he sprinted past Ogden. During a 24-7 Colts victory over Baltimore last season, Freeney was held without a sack and had three tackles.
â€œI didnâ€™t play great or have trouble, but it wasnâ€™t great,â€ Ogden said, referring to the 2004 encounter.
â€œLast year, I know he didnâ€™t have a sack.â€
Freeney possesses uncanny athleticism. He bench presses nearly 500 pounds and has covered 40 yards in 4.4 seconds, blending the strength of a power lifter and the speed of a running back.
â€œDwight is an unusual guy in that he plays a unique position,â€ Colts coach Tony Dungy said. â€œHe plays a position where itâ€™s usually bigger guys, taller guys who have succeeded. Heâ€™s not the prototypical defensive end, but heâ€™s got speed and strength and power.â€
Conversely, Ogden has nimble feet that belies his massive dimensions. He consistently shadows defensive ends and blitzing linebackers, preventing them from penetrating the backfield. Plus, heâ€™s one of the biggest football players in NFL history.
â€œItâ€™s going to be a real tough matchup,â€ Freeney said in a Tuesday conference call with reporters who cover the Ravens. â€œJonathan is an All-Pro, Hall of Fame offensive tackle and one of the best in the game.
â€œHeâ€™s won some battles. Iâ€™ve won some battles in the past. Itâ€™s going to take a complete effort for every single play for four quarters.â€
The Ravens willl probably employ some chip-blocking strategies on Freeney with Ogden not completely healthy. Theyâ€™re likely to use tight ends and fullback Ovie Mughelli to fan out to try to get a piece of Freeney.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has given up on single-blocking Freeney, always resorting to double-team attention in passing situations.
Freeney has worried many offenses to the point of distraction, disrupting quarterbacks because theyâ€™re too mindful of whether heâ€™s breathing down their neck.
â€œI donâ€™t think itâ€™s all about speeding up my process because thereâ€™s no way you want to rush any throw,â€ McNair said. â€œYou donâ€™t want to get your mechanics all messed up. You canâ€™t get up there worrying about, â€˜Whereâ€™s Freeney? How close is he to me?â€™ Iâ€™m just going to play my game.â€
Meanwhile, Ogden wonâ€™t be intimidated by Freeney as he has handled some of the best sack artists in the league over the past decade and rarely been beaten. His teammates are counting on another strong performance.
â€œJ.O. is not too bad himself,â€ tight end Todd Heap said. â€œHurt or not hurt, there arenâ€™t many guys that can play like he can.â€
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland