If Joe Flacco is going to lead the Ravens back to playoff prominence, he’s going to need a much better offensive line blocking for him. If Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce and the running back the Ravens are likely to draft are going to establish Baltimore’s ground game, they’re going to need a better offensive line blocking for them.
How many times in 2013 did the Ravens, due to procedure penalties or blown blocking assignments, get behind in down and distance? Too many.
Left guard Kelechi Osemele had a back injury that forced him to get surgery and subsequently miss nine games last year. Right guard Marshal Yanda, though he made the Pro Bowl, had more missed assignments last season than he seemingly has had the during the rest of his career combined.
Chalk that up to bad luck. Those players have shown they’re talented and fans should know by now they are the two best offensive linemen the Ravens have.
Baltimore’s two starting tackles (Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher) are both unrestricted free agents. Center Gino Gradkowski struggled last year, plain and simple. If the Ravens feel Gradkowski needs a replacement, they’re likely to look to Ryan Jensen or to the 2014 draft class.
So if the Ravens do make a move for a free agent offensive lineman, it’ll almost certainly be for a tackle. Baltimore cannot afford to keep both Monroe and Oher, so who will they keep?
My take on Oher
If Oher doesn’t recover Flacco’s fumble on a 3rd-and-20 in San Diego during the 2012 season, Rice doesn’t get the chance to make a 29-yard reception for one of the most memorable plays in NFL history.
And although Oher is better than most fans want to admit, he plays right tackle, which in today’s NFL is the less important of the two tackle positions.
What’s more telling is that in the five years Oher has played for the Ravens, he’s been the cause of 47 accepted penalties to the tune of 352 yards.
I’m not saying it’ll be an easy decision for the Ravens to make and I’m not trying to bash the guy, but Oher didn’t play his best football last year, a contract year. That’s not a good sign.
My take on Monroe
Monroe just completed his first NFL contract, which paid him $26.25 million over five years. I expect the Ravens to sign him to a six-year deal worth between $36-38 million.
First, besides Carolina’s Jordan Gross, Monroe is probably the best left tackle available in free agency. Second, if you’re going to pay Flacco and surround him with talent at the skill positions, you’d better secure his blind side. Third, Monroe and his wife Nureya like the area (she’s from Columbia), which is always a positive negotiating point.
The Ravens’ offensive line should look different in 2014, both in terms of personnel and scheme. I know Juan Castillo is the offensive line coach and his zone-blocking scheme didn’t work with the lineman the Ravens had last year. However, Gary Kubiak is, in essence, Castillo’s boss. So if Kubiak says the zone-blocking scheme isn’t a good fit for Baltimore’s personnel, Baltimore won’t run that scheme.
You could see a healthy, invigorated offensive line in 2014 that consists of Eugene Monroe (LT), Kelechi Osemele (LG), Ryan Jensen (C), Marshal Yanda (RG) and Rick Wagner (RT). For what it’s worth, Wagner played for Thomas Hammock (the Ravens’ new running backs coach) at Wisconsin.
That would mean Baltimore would only have to make one move (re-signing Monroe), which wouldn’t really be a big change, since he played in 11 games for the Ravens last year.
All of a sudden, a weak spot is strengthened.
Surely all of this is “on paper” and it will have to be eventually proven on the field. But when the Ravens players, coaches and front office are challenged, they respond with remarkable resilience.