As we approach the beginning of Ravens training camp, the potentially great offensive line Ozzie Newsome assembled has been a major talking point for fans. And, with the exception of first year starter, Gino Gradkowski, this is the exact same offensive line that gelled during the playoffs last year.
Yet, despite the general confidence in this group, I cannot seem to buy-in fully. And no, it isn’t because of the inexperienced second year Center, Gino Gradkowski. Nor is it because of Michael Oher’s inconsistency or Bryant McKinnie’s past troubles with his weight.
Rather, when I look at this offensive line, I see Kelechi Osemele, the second year Guard/Tackle, as the biggest wildcard.
The narrative of Kelechi Osemele’s short career is simple: He was a decent Right Tackle but a great Left Guard.
While it seems that every Ravens fan in Baltimore is sold on the former Iowa State Cyclone, I can’t seem to convince myself to completely jump on board. But, why is that?
Osemele is a player with a lot of different tools, mentally and physically, to be very successful. On the field, he is a 6’5 335 lb behemoth with nearly 36” arms and massive hands. Off the field, he is supposedly a smart, hard working fellow that embodies a “Raven”.
That description of a dominant player, however, didn’t translate into a complete, dominate performance from Osemele last year. But, that’s just my opinion and I’ll have to justify it. To do that, however, I’ll first have to point out Osemele’s strengths.
Coming into last season, Osemele was positioned as a Right Tackle because of two traits: his ability to bend naturally at his knees and his overall length. And, both of these physical tools allowed him to control the line of scrimmage very well.
In this play, Osemele is lined up at Right Tackle with a 4 technique lined up directly across him. A perfect situation for Osemele considering he will not have to travel very far after the snap to engage the defender.
After the snap, Osemele immediately gets his long arms on the Defensive End, attempting to drive him back to create a running lane for Ray Rice. Here, Osemele does a great job of getting lower than the man in front of him, a distinct advantage.
Eventually, Osemele is able to drive back the Defensive End about six yards, giving Ray Rice a nice opportunity to pick up a six yard gain. A very successful play on a first down.
As one can see from the video, Osemele can be a dominating force when asked to block a defender at the line of scrimmage. But if Osemele is going to make a full time move to Guard, he must improve greatly on his ability to block the “second level” of the defense.
In this play, Osemele is in at Left Guard. The Broncos are in their base “under front”, placing their 3-technique Defensive Tackle over the left shoulder of Osemele.
After the snap, it is easy to see that the run play is a “counter”, initially leaving Elvis Dumervil unblocked so Bryant McKinnie and Kelechi Osemele can double team the 3-technique while Yanda pulls from the strong side to make the “kick-out” block. All of this is done to open a running lane through the C gap.
As Osemele moves onto the second level to block the Linebacker, Ray Rice seems to realize that if Osemele is successful he’ll be able to run behind Vonta Leach through the C gap for a big gain.
Unfortunately for Ray Rice, Osemele engages the Linebacker too high and whiffs on the block, forcing Vonta Leach to turn outside.
As a result of Osemele’s missed block, Ray Rice is shorted an opportunity for a big gain and left running for his life to pick up one yard. A very disappointing play.
As stated before, Osemele is a big man. But, his biggest strength is also his biggest weakness as he has not shown the requisite short-area quickness to play Guard.
But of course, run blocking is only half the duty of an offensive lineman. To protect the 120 million dollar man, Osemele will most likely play whatever position he feels most comfortable in pass protection.
And as I look back at the tape from last season, it is becoming increasingly obvious that Osemele can protect Flacco better at Guard rather than Right Tackle.
Here, Flacco is ready to take the snap out of shotgun on a critical 3rd down. Osemele is in at Right Tackle ready to take on speed rusher, Justin Houston.
When the ball is snapped, Osemele actually kick-steps quite fast; an unusual occurrence. But, Osemele keeps his arms tight and waits too long to “punch” Houston to neutralize the speed rush.
Houston then takes advantage of Osemele’s slow feet, dipping his shoulder to get around the enormous Raven.
Before Flacco can even get to his second progression, Houston sacks Flacco. And making it even worse, Torrey Smith was running wide open in the middle of the field with room to run. Here is the video of the play:
In this play, Osemele is lined up at Left Guard with a 1-technique Defensive Tackle lined up across from him. As the entire offensive line prepares to slide towards Von Miller for extra protection, Osemele is being asked to block the Defensive Tackle 1 on 1.
Correctly, Osemele’s first move is to “punch” the Defensive Tackle and get inside his pads to gain better leverage. As he is doing this, Osemele keeps a wide base, only bending at his knees to keep his balance.
As a last ditch effort, the Defensive Tackle tries to spin around Osemele to get to Flacco. In response, Osemele drops his weight and anchors, completely shutting down the defender. Here is a video of the play:
At the end of the day, this is a question of identity for the Ravens. Do they want to compromise the passing game so Osemele can road grind at Right Tackle? Or do they want to have Osemele play Guard and lose crucial yardage due to his inability to get to the second level?
In today’s NFL, most teams would protect their Quarterback and slide Osemele inside. But, the Ravens have been consistent with their desire to run a balanced offense with two exceptional Running Backs.
If you were Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell, what position would K.O. occupy on your offensive line?