Digging in the Trenches: A Look at the State of the Ravens Offensive Line
Jan 20, 2013; Foxboro, MA, USA; General view of the line of scrimmage as Baltimore Ravens long snapper Morgan Cox (46) snaps the ball against the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium. The Ravens defeated the Patriots 28-13. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports
This article is about a group of guys that doesnt really get talked about much. They’re the unsung heroes of the offense. Probably the most important part, at least to me, of any offense is the offensive line. They’re the guys who block for the skill guys and the guys who buy the QB enough time to make plays through the air. It is very hard for teams to win with bad or inconsistent offensive line play. That is why I am going to be taking a look right now at the possible outcomes for the Raven’s offensive line post-draft. There are some spots to be filled and it is going to be interesting to see how things shape up for the o-line in this upcoming season. The Raven’s offensive line is something of an enigma heading into the post-draft months before training camps. The biggest spots to fill are the left tackle position and the center position. I feel that center is going to be the more difficult of the two positions to fill because of the talent that is no longer playing the position. Everyone is talking about Ray Lewis and Ed Reed no longer being a part of the Raven’s team anymore. While those are two unmeasurable assets that are no longer on the defensive side of the ball, I feel that there is one player who is sometimes over looked as no longer being a part of the Ravens team. That person is Matt Birk. He was a stud for the years that he was wearing a Ravens uniform. He was very consistent up the middle as the anchor and leader of the offensive line. Now that he is gone there are some pretty big shoes to fill not only there, but other positions on the offensive line as well. It seems that the only sure position on the line is Marshal Yanda at right guard. That one is just obvious.
Left tackle was just solidified yesterday when the Ravens got their guy back and resigned LT Bryant McKinnie. Originally I wrote this article while McKinnie was not with the team. So there was a lot of speculation here on whether or not the Ravens would move Osemele or Oher over to LT and where Jah Reid would play to start next season. McKinnie was being courted by the Titans, Cowboys, Chargers and Dolphins, All four teams are looking for help on their offensive lines. Well McKinnie Resigns with a two year deal. McKinnie played phenomenaly when inserted into the offensive line come playoff time. He managed to completely neutralize three very good pass rushers on the Ravens road to then Lombardi Trophy. The three pass rushers I mentioned were Dwight Freeney, Von Miller and Aldon Smith. He will definitely be the starter here come the start of the season. Though things could change depending on how Ricky Wagner, Jah Reid, or Kelechi Osemele develop this offseason. McKinnie could very well get a run for his money from one of the young guys.
Ideally this is where Kelechi Osemele ends up. When he was shifted over here last season during the playoffs he did amazing. If he is forced to bump over to the tackle position then the duo of Jah Reid and Ramon Harewood could both work. Both guys played some at this position last year and it took and injury to Reid for the Ravens to move Osemele over to the guard position. So both could potentially work. Plus the Ravens drafted Ricky Wagner and Ryan Jensen who could both play the guard position, but I think that they will both find themselves as backups on the roster with room to develop. So for the time being I think the Ravens really want to stick with Osemele here. Though I have heard talks that the Ravens are really high on an undrafted free agent prospect from 2012 that spent last season on the practice squad: Jack Cornell. He’s a dark horse for this position, but from what I hear there are people in the organization that really like this guy.
More than likely the starting center is going to be Gino Gradkowski. Not really much to discuss here unless Ryan Jensen really improves during training camp and can leap Gradkowski in the depth chart during the summer and work his way into a starting spot. For the time being be assured that its Gradkowski as starter with Jensen backing up.
Another no brainer: Marshal Yanda. He’s one the best guards in the NFL and really seems to excel here on the right side as a run blocker. He has paired great on the right side with Michael Oher as his linemate so I dont really see a reason for him to move. Whoever isnt starting at left guard will probably backup Yanda here, my guess is Wagner.
I stated earlier that the Ravens would love it if they could find a way to keep Michael Oher here. He played much better on this side when he replaced Kelechi Osemele here last season. If Oher does happen to get moved over to the left side then I think the Ravens could go with Osemele here again to see how that works out. Or, as I suspect, the Ravens go with Reid. He is probably the best linemen that they have to take over this position if Oher is forced to move and they want to keep Osemele at the left guard position. Maybe Wagner could surprise a lot of people and play like he did a couple of years ago in college where he looked like a potential first round pick. Either way I really think the Ravens try to keep Oher here and figure things out on the other side. If they cant find a suitable replacement I think they would be forced to move Oher. Protecting Joe Flacco is priority number one, and the Ravens cant afford him getting blindsided with inadequate line play on the left side.
MY PREDICTION FOR THE RAVENS OFFENSIVE LINE
LT: Bryant McKinnie – McKinnie signed a new two-year deal with the team and he should be starting here when the season s tarts.
LG: Kelechi Osemele – I really think this is where he helps the Ravens the most.
C: Gino Gradkowski – By default he’s the guy. Hopefully he can mesh well with fellow Blue Hen Joe Flacco
RG: Marshal Yanda – No real reason to think otherwise
RT: Michael Oher – He’s better here than he is on the left side. This is where the Ravens want him, and with McKinnie back, this is where he’ll stay.