If you gave so much as a one-minute listen to any local or national sports radio or TV station this football season, you’d undoubtedly come away with one thing in regard to the Ravens: their offensive line needs some serious help. Run blocking, pass blocking, you name it—they just couldn’t do it.
While we all expected the retirement of veteran center Matt Birk to be a big blow from a signal-calling perspective, no one could have foreseen the absolute mess that the Ravens had on their hands all season.
I could dwell on this situation all day night off-season long, but that wouldn’t be any fun, and you wouldn’t come away with any new thoughts on the subject. Instead, I’m going to go through each offensive line position, one by one, from left to right, and assess what the Ravens have and where they should go from here.
Left Tackle: I don’t care what anyone says; Eugene Monroe is a bona fide stud. We traded for him for a reason, and we’re going to re-sign him this off-season. It’s not often that you can have a top-tier left tackle in this league—although the Ravens know plenty about that—so you’ve got to lock one up when you do. In my opinion, Monroe was the Ravens’ best offensive lineman since he came into Baltimore. No need to make any moves here.
Left Guard: A.Q. Shipley simply did not cut it. While he played better as the season progressed, he’s just not starter material. Luckily for the Ravens, Kelechi Osemele will be back to start next season. Osemele will be entering his third year next season, which is right when players begin to blossom into their prime. I expect to see K.O. back in full form, competing for a Pro Bowl spot in the next few years. As far as Shipley goes, I’d still want to keep him on the team for depth—no matter how bad he may have been at times, I always believe that having a former starter as a back-up is always an advantage.
Center: This is the biggest concern. Often times an offensive line goes as well as the center goes, and, well…let’s just say that the Gino Gradkowski project hasn’t gone as planned. While Gradkowski has solid athleticism, he gets pushed around by bigger defensive linemen and seems to struggle with different protection adjustments. To be fair, I don’t think that one year as a starter is ever enough for a player to prove his worth, and for that reason I expect to see Gino as the opening day starter; however, he will need to make vast improvements to keep that job. I expect the Ravens to use one of their first few picks in the draft on a center. Also, keep an eye out for Ryan Jensen, a soon-to-be second-year center/guard that the Ravens seem to be high on.
Right Guard: Not a whole lot needs to be said here. While he didn’t have his best year as a Raven, Marshal Yanda continued to be the steadiest and most reliable force on the offensive line. I expect nothing less in the coming years.
Right Tackle: Here we have another intriguing situation. Michael Oher’s is now a free agent, and I don’t think he’ll be coming back. Between the money, the penalties, and the downright inconsistent play, I just can’t see Oher coming back in the purple and black next year. It was a decent run, and he seems like a great guy, but Michael simply did not live up to his expectations.
The in-house candidate to take Oher’s job at right tackle is Rick Wagner, who was a rookie last year. The former Wisconsin Badger was First-Team All-Big 10 his senior year and showed some flashes in heavy packages for the Ravens this past season. While he doesn’t have ideal athleticism, I actually like Wagner as a player. He’s consistent, tough, and smart. Shall the Ravens choose not to take a tackle high in the draft, I’d be confident with Wagner taking over on the right side.
While last year was certainly disastrous along the offensive line, I think that the problems can be remedied more smoothly than it might seem. As long as the line can keep Joe Flacco on his feet and open holes for the likes of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce on the ground, I don’t really care who the personnel are.
Image Credit: Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun
Image Credit: Jeffrey Beall