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OFFENSIVE LINE: Finding the Right Combination

Lombardi's Way OFFENSIVE LINE: Finding the Right Combination

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Many are quick to give credit to Bryant McKinnie for the Ravens improved offensive line play down the homestretch of the 2012 season – a homestretch that placed them first at the finish line.

It’s not that simple.

The upgrade to the team’s offensive front was really the result of finding the right combination of players. Michael Oher is just more comfortable at right tackle and apparently that’s where he should and will stay.

Perhaps you noticed during the Pre-Draft Press Conference on Tuesday that not a single syllable was invested in any notion of Oher moving back to left tackle. It appears that the Ravens have finally conceded that Oher is subpar at LT but he’s a very capable right tackle who could become a better player once he can mentally settle in there. He never did that on the flipside.

Matt Birk has retired and he’s passed the center’s torch to second year player Gino Gradkowski. Gradkowski is a bit undersized yet he’s a heady player, a solid technician and quick off the snap. The Ravens invested a fourth round pick in him last year and he fared well when given the bulk of the snaps in Cincinnati against one of the most formidable defensive tackles in the game, Geno Atkins.

Gradkowski is listed at 6’3”, 300 pounds – very similar to the highly touted Maurkice Pouncey, the Steelers 6’4”, 304-pound center.

To Gino’s right is multi-Pro Bowler Marshal Yanda who has developed into quite a leader himself and last year during training camp coined the phrase, “Embrace the grind.” Yanda is a smart, tough football player and without question the best third-round draft pick in the club’s history.

To his left Gradkowski will find fellow 2012 NFL Draft classmate Kelechi Osemele. KO spent most of 2012 manning the right flank of the offensive line but his move to left guard was a stroke of genius and THAT tactical maneuver, FAR more than the swap of Oher for McKinnie at left tackle made the biggest difference in the quality of O-Line play during the Ravens’ march through the playoffs.

Talk of KO as a left tackle is nothing more than that – talk! It’s a smokescreen intended to not make the team sound desperate for a left tackle in the draft and to help keep McKinnie’s asking price in check.

And if you think McKinnie was the difference, ask yourself this…

“Why is he still on the market?”

Maybe other teams saw the same tape of his play that the Ravens have watched repeatedly and while his play wasn’t bad, it’s certainly overstated. One only needs to watch Super Bowl XLVII again for proof.

That said, it’s possible, perhaps even likely that McKinnie returns for another campaign with the black-winged birds. The guess here is that the Ravens will get the enigmatic aspiring music producer at their price and then gradually transition him out of the position, paving way to an as of now unknown rookie that they are likely to select in on of the first 3 rounds next week.

You can count on two things…

One, there is a plan. The Ravens aren’t going to leave their $100 million man unprotected!

And two, Ozzie Newsome will remain patient and he’ll get the right player(s) at the right price. You only need to look at his body of work this offseason. The formula works and it will work again.

It’s that simple!

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24x7 Networks, LLC's founder (the parent of EutawStreetReport.com and RussellStreetReport.com) His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan and CBS Sports 1300. A diehard Fab Four fan, Tony is a frustrated musician who thinks beating on the steering wheel is akin to being John Bonham. Follow Tony's new Twitter @RSRLombardi. More from Tony Lombardi

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