Ravens: Bigger Need – Center or Right Tackle?
The Baltimore Ravens have been quite active and aggressive up to this point in the off-season, bolstering both their defensive and offensive units. Yet, they still have a few holes remaining heading into training camp.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
After trading away Jeremy Zuttah and Rick Wagner heading to the Detroit Lions, the Ravens are left with several question marks along the offensive line. As of now, I believe three positions are locked in – Ronnie Stanley at left tackle and Marshal Yanda at right guard being the obvious ones. The other I believe is Alex Lewis at left guard. Lewis sparingly played some left tackle last season and John Harbaugh has been known to mix and match along the offensive front in the past. That being said, Harbaugh had this to say when asked about the possibility of Lewis staying at left guard. “I would say that it is still too early for that, but I can tell you that he is taking the reps at left guard. “When you start seeing him take reps at right tackle, then you will know that is probably becoming more of a consideration. But, he looks good at left guard, and that is where we are at right now.”
So, that’s where we are at right now. That leaves them with an opening at center and right tackle. Both Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta mentioned the need to improve the offensive line. Newsome stated the need “to get bigger and stronger” and DeCosta reiterated this point when he said, “If we are going to improve offensively, I think it starts with the offensive line, we have to get more physical as an offensive line.” Newsome and company were as fed up as the rest of us continually seeing Zuttah being bullied at the point of attack, hence his departure. As they’re most accustomed to doing, the Ravens addressed this weakness through the draft, taking Nico Siragusa (332lbs) in the fourth round and Jermaine Eluemunor (330lbs) in the fifth round.
Not to be forgotten, Ryan Jensen, John Urschel, James Hurst, and De’Ondre Wesley will all look to compete for a starting position along the line. Most notably, Jensen may be a sleeper to fulfill the starting center position, as his 6-foot-4, 320 pound frame will add some more needed physicality. Just when the rest of us seem to have given up on Jensen, Harbaugh continues to back his guys. When asked about Jensen, Harbaugh said, “I like Ryan Jensen as a player. I think at center, I think his skill set is probably at its best in terms of what type of player he is. “He is sitting there between the two guards. He is smart; he can go in both directions. He is a tone-setter, and he really has gotten big and strong. “When you go talk to him in the locker room, you are going to see a 320-plus pound guy that has less than 20 percent body fat. That is really impressive.”
If the Ravens opt against signing Nick Mangold, I believe Jensen has a genuine shot at sitting atop the depth chart come Week One. That being said, and this may be wishful thinking, I believe Mangold may be a late addition and will occupy the starting center position week one. Due to the importance of the position and the desire to build a dominant offensive line, I don’t see them taking a chance with Jensen who has limited experience.
Still, the right tackle position is wide open and I believe the Ravens will opt for an in-house candidate to fill the vacancy. Take for example the 2012 Ravens Super Bowl team. The line was lead by a smart and experienced center in Matt Birk. The RT position was filled by Michael Oher who many believe didn’t live up to his hype as a first round draft pick. Unlike the center position, which comes with heavy responsibility, a RT can be assisted with keeping a tight end to block.
Rookie Jack Conklin of the Tennessee Titans was amongst the best right tackles in football last year. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, he ranked as the fifth best offensive tackle and their highest-graded right tackle. Nevertheless, they go on to mention the fact that “Conklin does get more help than most tackles in Tennessee’s scheme.” Below you can find some examples of what I mean.
Then there’s this chart, which was tracked by Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz).
The check marks represent every occasion which Conklin had no help in protection. The others represent the times he did receive help. As you can see, whether you believe Conklin to be one of the best tackles in football or not, he was never continually left on an island to block. And there’s nothing wrong with that, you have to play to your strengths and weaknesses, something the Ravens have to work towards improving.
As we inch closer to the start of the season, I believe it’s best if the Ravens keep the left side of their line intact (Stanley & Lewis), bring in an experienced center (Mangold), and allow current players on the roster to compete for the right tackle position, with the idea in mind that they may need extra assistance in pass protection.