The offensive line of the Baltimore Ravens has to be one of the most talked about O-lines ever discussed. Is it not generally understood that linemen don’t get any attention? Or maybe the issue is that this is just one of those jobs where people only really know who you are when you mess up!
There is no doubt about it that the offensive line for the Baltimore Ravens in 2013 was a significant team liability. Quite a list of other offensive struggles could be put together, but none could challenge this deficit as the #1 millstone dragging down the ability of the team to score points.
At the beginning of the season, the only change from the Super Bowl team was at center. But Gino Gradkowski struggled and was undersized for the role, and things did not go well for Michael Oher. And then Kelechi Osemele was injured and out.
But changes are happening, with more to come. Eugene Monroe was thankfully re-signed, Jeremy Zuttah was secured from Tampa Bay, and Osemele appears 100% recovered. Marshal Yanda continues as a mainstay, leaving only right tackle as the area of question – though with workable options.
In this series of articles on a first look at the 2014 Ravens roster possibilities, we set out in the initial overview piece to say that teams generally put nine linemen on the 53-man roster, though some may drop to eight if they retain four tight ends. We went with that later scenario, though it may be that the Ravens will do the more standard nine and three – as this represents my later thought, since the current fourth and fifth tight ends (as discussed in the last article) are not stellar possibilities.
The first four names are indeed quite certain, moving from left to right: Monroe, Osemele, Zuttah, and Yanda.
At right tackle it would appear that Ricky Wagner is going to be given the chance to lose the job as much as win it. The 6-6, 310-pound tackle was drafted in the fifth round last year out of Wisconsin. He gained some valuable experience at varied points last year (like the first game when Oher was hurt) and looks poised to be given every chance in the preseason to establish himself on the starting line.
Immediate competition for the right tackle position is from Ryan Jensen. Drafted one round later than Wagner, he suffered a broken foot last year. Jensen has the ability to play in every position on the line which makes him especially valuable for being retained.
So this leaves only two or three remaining positions.
The Gary Kubiak offense will change the Ravens away from a squad with straight-ahead and combination blocks, getting the linemen moving laterally into zone schemes. So it is all about quickness and maneuver, and therefore some of the promising younger players may have the biggest futures in Baltimore.
A rookie who would certainly be expected to be kept is Penn State lineman John Urschel, selected in the fifth round with the 175th overall pick. He is a brain, and Kubiak needs smart guys who are big and can move. He was an “all-everything” guy in college and in the Big 10.
Another rookie impressing folks at rookie camp and in OTAs is James Hurst, signed as an UFA out of North Carolina. He started 48 college games as a left tackle and amassed an impressive statistical resume there. I do not see the Ravens letting this guy go. If he is not on the roster, he will at least be on the practice squad.
This scenario does not leave much room for several veteran players like Jah Reid, Gradkowski, and A.J. Shipley. Reid missed OTAs with a calf strain and has strained his relationship with the team over the offseason. Gradkowski graded in some metric systems as the worst center in the league last year. Shipley has a chance to continue with the team as, like Jensen, a player who could fit at center or guard. I think Gradkowski and Reid are gone (sounds like the name of a law firm).
Recently joining the Ravens a couple weeks ago is Will Rackley, a former Lehigh University guard who was cut by Jacksonville. He has suffered from concussions and missed all of 2012 with a broken ankle. The former 3rd-round pick is an interesting addition, particularly if the Ravens move Osemele out to right tackle. I just don’t see that happening and can only sneak Rackley in at the ninth line position … and only then if one of the following rookies are not more easily kept.
Other names on the current 90-man roster include a pair of rookie UFA tackles: Parker Graham out of Oklahoma State and Brett Van Sloten from Iowa. Graham is intriguing at 6-7, 308, but I don’t see the space for either of these players to catch on, barring injury-like circumstances to those ahead of them.
The final name on the 90-man is David Mims, an even larger tackle at 6-8, 335 who played at Virginia Union. He is player who has for three years been just on the outside of being NFL-active, mostly with the Chiefs.
At the end of the day, one can see that there are more than a few viable options as the Baltimore Ravens seek to address this primary need along the offensive line. So, taking a total of nine names for the line, they are Monroe, Osemele, Zuttah, Yanda, Wagner, Jensen, Urshel, Shipley, Rackley.