OWINGS MILLS — Since the departure of Pro Bowl offensive guard Ben Grubbs in March, the Baltimore Ravens have taken more than a few swings at filling the void created at left guard when he signed a $36 million contract with the New Orleans Saints.
First, the defending AFC North champions attempted to convince veteran offensive guard Evan Mathis to leave the Philadelphia Eagles. However, he wound up staying in Philadelphia and being rewarded with a $25.5 million contract after visiting the Ravens.
The Ravens subsequently declared that Jah Reid would shift over from offensive tackle to play guard and that he was the immediate frontrunner to win the job.
One month later, though, the Ravens drafted All-Big 12 Conference offensive tackle Kelechi Osemele out of Iowa State in the second round.
Reid and Osemele were supposed to compete for the job, but neither distinguished himself during organized team activities or minicamps as both battled nagging injuries.
After months of false starts, the Ravens are hoping that they’ve solved the problem by acquiring a proven commodity in former Cincinnati Bengals starting offensive guard Bobbie Williams.
Signed to a two-year, $2.925 million contract that includes an $800,000 signing bonus, Williams, 35, has started 130 career games in a dozen NFL seasons.
He was limited to nine starts last season due to a broken right ankle suffered against the Houston Texans and a four-game suspension for violating the NFL performance-enhancing drug policy.
"We targeted him right out of free agency," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He’s a guy that we knew about right away. We have always liked him. We had him highly ranked."
Meanwhile, Reid missed time this spring with a lower back injury and a strained calf. And Osemele was sidelined with a quadriceps issue. Both are expected to be ready for training camp.
The Ravens won’t simply hand Williams the left guard job, but he was immediately installed with the first-team offense after joining the team. Given his reputation as a mauling blocker, it will be a surprise if he doesn’t claim the spot.
"I think we just need to find out one guy to fill that spot," Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda said. "There’s no really complicated equation to that. They’re going to pick the guy that blocks the most consistently day in and day out. So, they just take it one day at a time. And the guy that obviously plays the best is going to play there. So, that’s it."
With the exception of last season, Williams hadn’t missed a single game since joining the Bengals in 2004 after beginning his career in 2000 as a second-round draft pick with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Despite his background, Williams said he’s not making any assumptions about his starting status and is intent on earning his position.
"That’s just it, that it’s open," Williams said of how the coaching staff portrayed the left guard situation to him. "They like the guy that I am. They like my character and they like my plan, and they say that I would be a good fit, and I believe that. I’m up for the challenge, and I’m going to try to maximize every chance I get."
Besides signing Williams and drafting Osemele, the Ravens also retained six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk this offseason and picked up a $500,000 roster bonus for starting left offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie. McKinnie has battled conditioning issues and was instructed to get down to 345 pounds by training camp and was held out of a minicamp altogether.
The Ravens also drafted Delaware center-guard Gino Gradkowski in the fourth round and signed veteran interior lineman Tony Wragge.
The rookies have made a good impression on Yanda.
"They seem like good guys so far," Yanda said. "They seem like they want to work hard and they want to get it. In the classroom when we’re going through plays, they seem very into it and professional for young guys.
"So, I think they’re going to be good. We’ll take it one day at a time and we’ll see how they progress, but I think they have the right attitude and they brought in two good guys."
Ideally, Williams will solidify the left guard spot for at least next season while young linemen like Osemele and Gradkowski develop and learn from established linemen like Williams, Birk, Yanda, McKinnie and starting right offensive tackle Michael Oher.
"They will come ask me a question here and there and I just try my best to share what I know and what I’ve been through and nothing more," Williams said of the rookies. "I can’t make up anything that I haven’t done or seen, but I just share with them kind of like a testimonial, a technique, something that I’ve been doing. And if it helps them, then awesome."