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OWINGS MILLS — The Baltimore Ravens obviously believe in a changing of the guard, only their concept tends to be more of a constant proposition instead of a permanent move.
Although second-year lineman Chris Chester has started the first two games of the season at right guard, he has been sharing time with rookie first-round draft pick Ben Grubbs.
It’s a situation that’s partly an extended competition from training camp, and a chance to groom Grubbs for a future starting position as Chester is regarded as the team’s center of the future and could eventually shift inside down the road in place of veteran Mike Flynn.
"I feel like I’m proving that I belong out there," Grubbs said following the Ravens’ 20-13 win Sunday over the New York Jets. "I’m working hard and I want to show that my teammates can count on me and trust me to get the job done.
"I feel like it’s going pretty good. Of course, you can always get better. You can never relax in this league, so I just keep working hard and having fun."
During this transition period, the rotation allows Grubbs to pick up some valuable experience to build depth behind Chester and left guard Jason Brown while still getting both athletic, young blockers on the field. It’s a strategy that the Ravens intend to keep going.
"To continue to get the growth of Ben Grubbs at the guard position," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "This line is one that’s going to have to serve us for the whole year and as a group move in and out of different rotations. So, they’ve got to get comfortable with that group moving around a little bit. So far, they’ve done a nice job with it."
Against the Jets, Grubbs, the 29th overall pick out of Auburn, played roughly 25 of 68 offensive snaps.
And Baltimore didn’t allow a sack as backup quarterback Kyle Boller threw two touchdowns with no interceptions.
"I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my offensive line," Boller said. "I don’t think I got hit one time. They did a great job upfront."
The Jets’ 3-4 defense changes alignments a lot and is considered more complicated than most to block, especially for an unproven offensive line in flux.
"Excellent, excellent," Billick replied when asked about Yanda and Grubbs’ performance. "Against a team that’s very multiple and brings a lot of pressure, they did an outstanding job. Kyle had all the time he needed.
"Kyle had to do a lot of checking in that game because of the nature of that defense. Well, that also means the people around have to hear, internalize, intellectualize and put into action the checks. That’s a lot to go up to the line going, ‘Is it this or is it that?’ particularly with young players and they did an outstanding job."
Baltimore also rushed for 118 yards on 34 carries as former Pro Bowl runner Willis McGahee gained 97 yards on 26 carries. He gained a lot of his yardage up the middle with the three interior linemen running interference for him.
During the Ravens’ season-opening loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Grubbs led the way for running back Musa Smith on his 6-yard touchdown run.
Splitting time at right guard hasn’t caused discord in the locker room.
"I’m a team player first, whatever is best for the team," Chester said. "I don’t mind both of getting in there. It keeps us from getting tired and it allows us to try to wear down the defense. It’s a long season, so we’re both going to need to stay healthy.
"Ben is a great guy. We’re both competitive, but we keep it friendly and help each other out. I look at this as a good thing."
Meanwhile, the Ravens are preparing for another potential change perhaps as soon as this week as All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden could return from a left turf toe injury. He might practice today after incurring a left foot injury last week while being bull-rushed by Bengals defensive end Justin Smith.
If Ogden’s back, then rookie Marshal Yanda, who played the entire game in his first NFL start against the Jets, would be replaced at right tackle by Adam Terry, who has been filling in for Ogden on the left side.
"We’ll get Jonathan back, hopefully this week, if not this week, then maybe the next," Billick said. "Now, Adam goes back to right tackle and that means that changes for everybody."
Despite the youth movement afoot, the Ravens aren’t going to allow that to affect their decision on who to play under center. Quarterback Steve McNair, who missed his first start since arriving in Baltimore due to a groin pull, is expected to start Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals at M&T Bank Stadium.
"I’ve got a comfort zone with the guys that are in there," Billick said. "They’re playing well enough right now. I know Steve believes in them as well. There are certain things you’ll do to protect one player or another based on who it is they’re facing.
"We’re not going to leave them vulnerable, but I wouldn’t necessarily not play Steve because we have a particular number of young guys in there. Our offensive line is what it is, and it’s playing very well right now."
NOTES: In a somewhat surprising move, the Ravens cut linebacker Dennis Haley who played on special teams in each of the first two games and appeared in nine games last season. This transaction leaves the team room to sign one player to the active roster.
The Ravens signed rookie tight end Jake Nordin (Northern Illinois) to the practice squad, terminating the contract of practice squad tight end Kendrick Ballantyne.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.