Ravens 2014 Positional Preview: Offensive Line
Last season the Ravens Offensive Line was bad.
So bad that they ranked last in the league in average rushing yards per carry. So bad that they were tied for fourth worst in the NFL in sacks (48). If you subscribe to the idea that things can’t get any worse then naturally this group should be better in 2014, right?
This past off-season the front office went to work re-tooling this group and the question of if they did enough will be answered soon enough on the field.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
Let’s take a look:
2014 Depth Chart
Center: Jeremy Zuttah, Gino Gradkowski, A.Q. Shipley, Reggie Stephens
Guard: Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele, Jah Reid, John Urschel, Will Rackley, Parker Graham
Tackle: Eugene Monroe, Ricky Wagner, Ryan Jensen, James Hurst, David Mims, Brett Van Sloten
Pro Bowler Marshal Yanda leads the new look line and now appears fully recovered from shoulder surgery from early last season. He had a bit of a down year by his standards but still earned a trip to a third straight Pro Bowl. He’s still one of the best at his position and uses his tremendous toughness and skill to keep rushers at bay. He’s also one of the most durable as he’ll be only one of handful of Ravens to have played 100 games for the franchise when the team locks up with Cincinnati in Week One.
Re-signing Eugene Monroe was an important piece in rebuilding the line. Last season Monroe wasn’t spectacular when he came over from the Jaguars but he was solid and consistent during the season. His athleticism is a perfect fit for the Ravens zone-blocking scheme and he should give stability at the Left Tackle spot for years to come.
There were questions last season after Matt Birk’s retirement if his replacement, Gino Gradkowski could handle the job. After 16 games, Gradkowski has now lost his starting job to former Buccaneer Jeremy Zuttah. Zuttah has six seasons of NFL experience and should provide an upgrade over the struggling Gradkowski who had difficulty in the run game and in keep pressure off Joe Flacco from up the middle.
Kelechi Osemele had a season filled with injury after a solid rookie campaign in 2012 and was shut down early in the season. He’s spent much of his time trying to regain strength to be prepared for a return to the starting lineup this year. So far everything looks on schedule and his return to form would help this unit immensely.
Right Tackle is the biggest unknown of the starting five. Michael Oher signed with the Titans and while some were happy to see him go the Ravens are looking internally to fill the void left behind. Second year man Ricky Wagner appears to have the job for now with competition coming from the versatile Ryan Jepsen. Wagner appeared in Jumbo packages last season while Jepsen recovered from injury. It will be interesting to see over the next few weeks if the Ravens will look to bring in a vet presence on the right side or if either player can win the job.
How many lineman will the Ravens keep? The competition is tight with several additions and the roster is filled with players who can step in at multiple positions. Of course other positions will affect if the team can afford to keep as many as nine in this group but aside from those already mentioned Gradkowski, and rookie John Urschel should provide depth at the Center and Guard positions while I see James Hurst as Tackle project that could pay dividends down the road. That means A.Q. Shipley and former third-rounder Jah Reid might be looking for work elsewhere. Neither has impressed much during their time here.
The resurgence of the line will be a key component in Baltimore’s hope to return to the playoffs. If they can stay healthy on paper they should be much better as they enter the second season of the Zone-Blocking scheme under Juan Castillo’s direction. Gary Kubiak should also have an impact on how the scheme is utilized within his offense and with some different personnel to better fit the scheme things should look better.