OWINGS MILLS – Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco would dust himself off last season, brushing off grass and dirt as he picked himself off the ground and returned to the huddle.
And running backs Ray Rice and Willis McGahee would encounter defenders rapidly in the red zone, getting stuffed far too often at the goal line because the blockers had been shoved into the backfield.
Both of those occurrences were commonplace last season as the Ravens’ offensive line allowed 40 sacks and the running game averaged less than four yards per carry.
The offensive line could use bolstering.
It’s debatable, though, whether the Ravens will draft an offensive tackle in the first round with the 26th overall pick despite having fairly high opinions on Mississippi State All-Southeastern conference offensive tackle Derek Sherrod and Wisconsin All-American offensive tackle Gabe Carimi.
Overall, this is a deep class for tackles. However, there are few elite prospects once you get past USC offensive tackle Tyron Smith, Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo and Colorado offensive tackle Nate Solder.
“There’s not your Jake Long, Joe Thomas type guy out there, but the collective unit is similar to years past where there’s a good stack of players,” Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. “In the second round, you’re going to get an opportunity to take a good one, in the third round.
“I would say the depth is pretty solid. It’s senior-heavy. Probably in terms of your pure, top guy, he’s not out there this year.”
The Ravens have had a fair amount of contact with Sherrod, meeting with him at both the NFL scouting combine and the Senior Bowl.
Sherrod is known for his intelligence, graduating with a degree in business administration with a 3.54 grade point average. The 6-foot-5, 321-pounder also has a 35 3/8 wingspan.
“Real good-looking kid, big with long arms, a four-year starter in the SEC,” Hortiz said. “Just a pretty good-looking guy, very smart kid, they speak real highly of him down there. He got a lot of rave reviews from the staff.”
A first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection, Sherrod started 47 of 50 career games. He was a high school basketball player who also played along the defensive line and was offered football scholarships to Florida, Miami, Notre Dame, Michigan, Louisville and Ole Miss.
Sherrod said he prefers to play left tackle at the next level.
"I am very NFL-ready at left tackle," Sherrod said. "That’s the position I plan on going in and playing at. Personally I feel like I fit in at the top. I’m very much a very physical, competitive, intelligent offensive tackle that can come in right away and help out whatever organization that I’m with.”
At the NFL scouting combine, Carimi proclaimed he was the best offensive tackle. He’s known for having a nasty disposition on the field. The 6-foot-7, 314-pound Outland Trophy winner has excelled against top competition, including first-round defensive ends like Ryan Kerrigan, Adrian Clayborn, J.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward.
“I have a better resume of going against better talent than anyone else, so that makes me more ready,” Carimi said. “I’m physically stronger and have more career starts and better knowledge of the game than any other tackle out there. That’s why I’m the No. 1 tackle.
“I know I can play right away. I feel that’s my best aspect over a lot of linemen, that I’ m a draft-ready tackle. I’ll be able to play in the National Football League next year.”
Ravens starting left tackle Michael Oher struggled at times in pass protection last season, and was flagged for 11 penalties including eight false stars.
In the view of highly-respected NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, both Carimi and Sherrod aren’t superior to Oher.
“I think there are questions with Castonzo, Carimi and Sherrod as to whether they can play on the left side,” Mayock said. “Carimi, I think is a right tackle only. Carimi is not a great athlete. He’s a technician and a tough guy. He’s a right tackle, maybe a guard. I think Sherrod makes sense. To be honest with you, I think Oher is a better left tackle than Sherrod is ever going to be.
“So, they could still take a Carimi or somebody, Carimi is not a whole lot better ultimately than the guy they’ve got playing on the right side [Marshal Yanda] from Iowa now that kicks inside the guard. So, looking for an upgrade there is a difficult proposition.”
It would be surprising if Solder, a mobile 6-foot-9, 315-pounder slides all the way to the Ravens at 26th overall.
Solder is a lean former tight end that has great weight room strength, but lacks ideal bulk.
“The Solder kid has got gifted feet, but he’s weak in the core and lower body,” Mayock said. “He’s a first round pick who’s a left tackle and will be a really good starting left tackle, but he’s underpowered. He’s about two years away from being a really good tackle, so you’re going to have to live with that.
The Ravens have also worked out Indiana offensive tackle James Brewer and Lehigh offensive guard Will Rackley.The Ravens drafted Morehouse offensive tackle Ramon Harewood in the sixth round last year.
They have shown a great deal of interest in another small-school lineman from a historically black college this year: Virginia Union offensive tackle David Mims.He has visited the Ravens and had a private workout for them. He has also visited the Detroit Lions and worked out for the Kansas City Chiefs.
The 6-foot-8, 331-pound Division II All-American bench pressed 225 pounds 29 times and ran a 5.32 in the 40-yard dash. Mims’ workout numbers are superior or equal to many of the top tackle prospects, and he’s regarded as a fifth-round or sixth-round target by analysts.
"I’m a hungry player," Mims told Ravens24x7.com. "I love football. Coming from a small school, a lot of people tell you what you can’t do. I’ve been counted out before coming out of high school. This is a bigger scale, but I’ve always felt like I’m a good player. I need a chance to show what I can do."
The Ravens have also looked at Florida State offensive guard-center Rodney Hudson and have checked out Florida center-guard Mike Pouncey, the twin brother of Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey.
Six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk has agreed to return for one more season in Baltimore, putting off retirement.
“I think it’s always a value if a guy is a swing guy and can play guard and center,” Hortiz said. “Regardless of if Matt Birk has four more years or one more year left in him, if something happens to Matt you like the possibility for a guy to slide inside
“Pouncey is like his brother except he’s played more guard and obviously showed the versatility to play center this year. Hudson has never played center in a game, but has practiced at center and he’s got the potential to play there.”
The Ravens conducted a private workout with Baylor offensive lineman Danny Watkins, an All-Big 12 tackle who projects to guard in the NFL.
He’s an intriguing player as a 26-year-old native of British Columbia, Canada who was a firefighter and a hockey player before discovering football at a California junior college.
"I think Danny has a great story, but he’s also a great player,” Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said. “He can play tackle or guard. He’s a smart guy with flexibility and a tough guy.
“Any time you have someone who can come in and it’s not going to be too big for them, an older player, it helps. I think a guy like that who has done a lot of different things can be productive right away."