OWINGS MILLS — Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Jared Gaither missed all of last season with a nagging upper back injury that caused him to go on injured reserve.
Now, his agent, Drew Rosenhaus says the former University of Maryland standout has made a full recovery from the thoracic disk injury.
"Jared Gaither’s back is totally healed," Rosenhaus wrote on his Twitter account. "He’s had a great offseason and will have a bounce back yr. He’s back to full strength & ready to go."
Meanwhile, the Ravens aren’t crossing Gaither off their list when they make plans for this season.
Provided he’s still a restricted free agent if last year’s rules are in effect, then Gaither could wind up competing with rookie Jah Reid for the starting right tackle job.
However, the Ravens are unlikely to give Gaither a new contract with a major financial commitment if he’s an unrestricted free agent after he didn’t play a snap last season due to upper back problems.
"If we have to operate under the 2010 rules, we would still have Jared Gaither," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said recently. "If he’s healthy, he’d get a chance to come back and start also."
Newsome expressed confidence that Michael Oher will improve at left tackle after committing eight false start penalties last season and struggling with assignments in pass protection at key moments.
"Michael, I feel after him getting one year under his belt, he will take the next step," Newsome said. "If he has to be our left tackle, he’ll take the next step and he’ll be able to do a very good job at that position."
The Ravens’ top configuration on the offensive line is probably Oher at left tackle, Ben Grubbs at left guard, Matt Birk at center, Marshal Yanda moving back to his natural right guard position and either Reid or Gaither on the right side.
"We’ll put the five best guys on the field," Newsome said. "We realize that when Michael was at right tackle and Marshal Yanda was at right guard that it provided a very strong right side for us. We have to put the best five guys on the field to run the football and protect Joe Flacco.
"Jah will come and we feel like the right side is the best side for him to start, where he’s played for the last four years. Nothing is etched in stone."
Gaither says he would prefer to remain with the Ravens.
"I have no control over that, and I just hope everything gets worked out," Gaither told Ravens24x7.com in a telephone interview following the season. "However that works out, if they do tender me or don’t, there’s not that much I can do about that. I’m prepared for anything. You just don’t know what’s going to happen.
"It was an unfortunate injury. It kind of took me for a whirlwind. I’m really looking forward to the season. This was just another bump in the road. I hope I’m with the Baltimore Ravens and I’ll come back even stronger next year."
Gaither said he hasn’t spoken with team officials, but Rosenhaus, has spoken with Newsome about his client’s status.
No contract negotiations were launched with the former University of Maryland lineman.
"I let Drew handle all of that for me," Gaither said. "I just hope they get the deal done. My focus has always been on being the best player I can be."
Should Gaither return, he wants to go back to his old left tackle position.
Last season, the Ravens installed Oher as their left tackle and he struggled with penalties, including eight false starts, and had issues with speed rushers.
Gaither said it definitely matters to him where he lines up.
"Yeah, it does," Gaither said. "I’ve been playing left tackle my whole career. It wouldn’t make much sense to change now and get a whole new position underway at this point in time."
Gaither made two trips to California during the season to visit noted back specialist Dr. Robert Watkins.
While Gaither says he won’t need to have back surgery and has been conditionally cleared medically to play football again, he’ll still need to pass a physical to be allowed to play again.
"Basically, I’m cleared," Gaither said. "I just have to be cleared by the ballclub and take that physical, so, yeah, I’m doing a lot better. I’m feeling great. I can’t wait for next season. I’m blessed to be OK. I’m glad to be on the right track for redemption."
Gaither remains wary of his back flaring up again after experiencing back spasms last August during training camp.
"The biggest thing was I let it calm down, so my back would settle down," Gaither said. "I’m not trying to aggravate it every week. That hasn’t been successful. I’ve got to trust and believe in it. I know everything will be fine and I’ll keep working at it."
There was a disconnect between Gaither and the organization during the offseason last year when he declined to report initially to the voluntary offseason training program before showing up after coach John Harbaugh spoke out publicly about the situation and privately to Rosenhaus.
Then, Gaither suffered a bruised foot during minicamp after being moved to right tackle. There was a disagreement between the team and Gaither about the severity of the injury.
"That’s all in the past," Gaither said. "Everything is fine now. I love this organization. I love my teammates. This is where I want to play. I just hope I can come back and I’m waiting to hear what’s going to happen."
The Ravens traded up five spots to acquire Reid out of Central Florida, sending their third-round pick and sixth-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles to draft the 6-foot-7, 325-pounder.
"We traded up to get Jah," Newsome said. "Looking at the board, there was no one else we were really excited about. We wanted to make sure we got him. Two things, his size and his arm length, that’s very important for a tackle.
"The other thing, he is a very good knee-bender, so that will allow him to be a very good run-blocker. We hope he can come in and compete right away to be a starter for us."