Positional Review Preview: Offensive Line

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2008 Review:

The offensive line was in a major state of transition for the first time in years. Future Hall of Famer, Jonathan Ogden retired to end a splendid twelve year career which included 11 Pro Bowls and was voted 9 times All-Pro. Mike Flynn also ended his ten year run as a member of the Ravens when he his contract was not renewed. He did receive as many accolades as Ogden but was always a solid contributor.

Losing two veterans made the line the biggest question mark heading into 2008. So the youth movement was on, as Jared Gaither, another 6’9″ monster was slated to take the left tackle spot from Ogden. Gaither has shown steady improvement over time since the Ravens picked him up in 2007 and while he’s not to Ogden’s level yet he has impressed with his athleticism.

Ben Grubbs, a 1st round pick in 2007 has entrenched himself at the left guard spot and since you don’t hear his name that often he must be doing something right. He continues to develop with the rest of the young line to provide interior push.

Jason Brown, who was drafted as a Center out of North Carolina spent much of his career at Guard but then switched back to Center with the departure of Flynn. Brown established himself as one of the position’s best but did struggle at time against larger tackles such as Casey Hampton and Albert Haynesworth.

Marshall Yanda, also a product of the 2007 draft class showed poise and production at the Right Guard spot. However he tore the anterior cruciate, medial and posterior collateral ligaments in his right knee in Week 6 last season at Indianapolis and that ended his season. This allowed Chris Chester who was all but given up on as he was relegated to being labeled a Tight End a shot to prove himself. He responded well and gave the team workmanlike minutes.

Right Tackle had been held down by Adam Terry but inconsistency and injury led the team to sign former Bengal, Willie Anderson. It wasn’t too long before Anderson was the starter. But both were able to gain time due to Cam Cameron’s use of the unbalanced line.

Oniel Cousins was a surprise in camp with his nasty demeanor and could develop into a decent lineman in the future.

The young unit plus Anderson achieved better than expected results as the Baltimore had the 4th best rushing attack in the league and were about middle of the pack in giving up 33 sacks to opposing defenses.

2009 Preview:

Jason Brown bolted to become one of the highest paid lineman in the league by the Rams but the Ravens were quick to find a replacement in signing former Viking, Matt Birk.

Birk is a 6 time Pro Bowler and 2 time All Pro at his position and is respected around the league as leader with his charitable organizations. He will be charged with giving a vet presence to the developing line.

Willie Anderson announced his retirement after it became clear that the team was searching for possible replacements in talking with Marvel Smith and Orlando Pace. The Ravens found their man in drafting Michael Oher in the first round. Oher has great size and a mean streak that the team loved. Oher has solidified himself as the starting right tackle, taking all of the snaps with the first-team offense and has out any concerns about his ability to grasp the offense to rest with careful preparation.

Yanda is the biggest concern as he hasn’t fully recovered from multiple surgeries and may been the season on the PUP. Chris Chester will again step in.

For many seasons, Baltimore has been a better Run blocking team that Pass blocking and that should continue into 2009. They need Birk to continue his All-Pro type play under Center and help the youngsters continue to gel as a group. He will be 33 when the season starts so there is always worry of injury at his age.

With Oher hopefully establishing himself on the right that will increase the protection for Joe Flacco and allow the passing game to improve as well as their protection totals. This might also allow the Tight Ends to run patterns and to send the backs out for screens. All of these things greatly improve the pass game.

Championships are won in the trenches and for the Ravens to make a legitimate claim to the AFC North crown the offensive line must continue to improve and lead the way for the offense.

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