Last season the Ravens offense ranked 30th in rushing with 83.0 yards per game and they ranked dead last (32nd) in yards per carry (3.1).
The results were the byproduct of a perfect storm.
Bryant McKinnie was a failure – again! Kelechi Osemele fell to injury. Marshal Yanda hadn’t fully recovered from shoulder surgery and Michael Oher was Michael Oher.
Eugene Monroe was brought in on the fly and paired up with an undersized left guard playing out of position (AQ Shipley) who in turn played beside an inexperienced center (Gino Gradkowski) who was hesitant and indecisive.
Making matter worse the Ravens had a divided coaching staff.
Offensive line coach Andy Moeller had his approach and “Run Game Coordinator” Juan Castillo had another. Running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery couldn’t get on the same page as Castillo while his corps of ball carriers was bulked up to the point of immobility.
Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce were about as limber as Bernie in A Weekend at Bernie’s.
And that may be an insult to the iconic party animal.
But if recent OTA’s are any indication, the running game is on the mend in a very noticeable way.
Monroe and Osemele look powerful and athletic on the left side and scrape from left to right on stretch runs effortlessly. Jeremy Zuttah is quick off the snap and gets to the second level with suddenness and precision. Marshal Yanda looks healthy and fresh and the running backs more purposeful and explosive.
And perhaps most importantly there is a coordinated rhythm and tempo to the offense, particularly the running game, that hasn’t been as noticeable this early in years – a clear indication that Gary Kubiak, Juan Castillo and RB Coach Tom Hammock are on the same page.
As quickly as the ground game tanked in 2013 it could do a complete 180 in 2014 and get back to the 4.3 yards per carry that they enjoyed in 2011 and 2012.
The key to the recovery in the eyes of many is right tackle.
Is the Ravens starting right tackle on Opening Day even on the roster now?
Will it be Ricky Wagner or Ryan Jensen and if so will their efforts match those of Michael Oher during his better seasons?
Will it even matter?
It’s early and the players have only practiced in jerseys and shorts. Yet the improvement along the offensive front, left of the right tackle, seems so markedly improved that a serviceable right tackle might be good enough particularly if said RT is an effective run blocker.
Managing down and distance, selling play action (a staple of Kubiak’s offense) and chipping with backs and tight ends are a few of the ways the Ravens can help offset weak to marginal pass protection on the right edge.
There’s still work to be done – plenty of it.
Yet things are clearly heading in the right direction with the Ravens running game.
Then again, looking back upon the perfect storm from last season, could they get any worse?