Protectors of the blind side

KIRKLAND — Cynics snicker over Walter Jones’ and Jonathan Ogden’s well-worn path to the Pro Bowl. They say the 33-year-old left tackles for the Seahawks and Ravens, respectively, are going on reputation, not merit.

Ogden will be going to his 11th consecutive Pro Bowl; Jones to his eighth in a row.

But you won’t hear a quibble about Jones from Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Or Hasselbeck’s mother, for that matter.

“He’s a blessing, he really is,” Hasselbeck said of Jones.

Hasselbeck is going to his third Pro Bowl largely because he hasn’t had to worry about who might be coming after him from behind since he took the Seahawks’ quarterback job in 2001.

“What does my mom want? She wants the best left tackle in football,” Hasselbeck said. “And we got him. It’s a great thing.”

Baltimore quarterback Troy Smith will bring the reeling Ravens (4-10) into Seattle today to play the NFC West champion Seahawks (9-5).

Smith’s mom may be thinking the same happy thoughts about Ogden. His 11th selection for the Pro Bowl ties him with Larry Allen for second-most appearances among active players behind Junior Seau’s 12.

The string is so long, people in Maryland call the annual All-Star game the Jonathan Ogden Invitational.

“When you go into the game plan, no matter who it is you are playing, you don’t have to worry about the left side,” Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

“I told Jonathan, ‘Why don’t you stick around for a while? Because when you go, I should probably go with you.’ It’s one of those comfort zones that he’s always been there.”

Perhaps not for long.

Unlike Jones, Ogden is starting to think those who say he should step aside may be correct. In his 12th season since the Ravens drafted him as the first pick of the franchise, fourth overall in 1996, Ogden has missed six games with a hyperextended left big toe that had pained him since late last season. He spent the spring contemplating retirement. He wasn’t expecting to go back to Hawaii, especially now that injury-wracked Baltimore has lost a team-record eight consecutive games.

He wasn’t sure if these last two regular-season games for Baltimore are the last two of his career.

“There are a lot of things. My health. Where I think we’re going. I can’t say right now,” Ogden said. “I don’t know yet.”

Jones is in his 11th season since Seattle took him sixth overall in 1997.

He rededicated himself to a better diet last offseason. He got one shoulder repaired surgically and rested the other chronically sore one by skipping practices this season. Now he is going to Hawaii for the eighth consecutive time.

“You know, I feel the same,” Jones said. “People say, ‘He’s lost a step.’ But I still honestly feel I can go out there and get it done.”

Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said he’s never had to help Jones block a blitzer or wild pass rusher with a fullback or tight end. Not one time, since he arrived to coach the Seahawks in 1999.

“Probably the best lineman I’ve ever had, offensive lineman,” Holmgren said.

“At some point you have to groom or get a young guy in there to play … Walter has some years left, though. He hasn’t told me anything.”

Jones said his goal is to play four more seasons before he retires, through the end of the $52.5 million, seven-year contract he signed before the 2005 season. But with base salaries that go from $5 million next season to $6 million in 2009 and $7.3 million for 2010 and ‘11, Jones will likely have to agree to less pay to play through his 37th birthday.

Just the idea of Jones not being around made Holmgren squirm Wednesday.

The coach finally said, “Let’s turn the room in another direction.”

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