We could just say “Baltimore’s offensive line can’t get any worse than last year, so it can only go up from here” and call it a day.
That assumption is probably true, but how much better the offensive line for the Baltimore Ravens will be in 2014 remains to be seen.
Easily the most forgettable collective offensive line performance in franchise history, the 2013 line never gelled, never had one good collective game, and quite frankly was just defunct of talent.
The Ravens are returning their two lone quality starters – left tackle Eugene Monroe and Marshal Yanda – and return a once injured but now presumably healthy left guard in Kelechi Osemele, whose midseason departure due to back problems paved the way for the disappointing experiment with A.Q. Shipley at left guard.
The Ravens should see at least a little improvement this season along the offensive line after an offseason of trying to fix it.
Notable new additions: Jeremy Zuttah and John Urschel – Center was Baltimore’s weakest point on the roster last season. Second-year player Gino Gradkowski never developed, nor did he display an inherent feel for the offense.
After one season with Gradkowski at the position, the Ravens made it obvious that his performance was disappointing, as they shipped a 2015 draft pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for veteran Jeremy Zuttah, who then signed a new five-year, $18 million deal with the team.
The trade and his new contract made it clear that all intentions are for Zuttah to be the new franchise center for the Ravens.
Urschel, a fifth-round pick in this year’s draft, may never be a starter at any position like Zuttah, but his presence should provide some caution for Shipley and Gradkowski, whose roster spots are not guarantees heading into training camp.
Urschel is expected to be Zuttah’s backup at center and provide depth at guard, where he played in college.
Player with the most to prove: Kelechi Osemele – After playing in all 20 games as a rookie (16 at right tackle, four at left guard in the playoffs), and performing well all season, it appeared that the Ravens drafted a future stud in Osemele.
While that still may be the case, Osemele’s underwhelming (and short) 2013 season provides some caution moving forward, as he played in only seven games, all at left guard. In those seven games prior to season-ending back surgery, Osemele looked nothing like the consistent all-around guard he was for the team during the Super Bowl run.
Was it due to the shift to the zone-blocking scheme, his injury, or both?
Now a full-go for training camp and having participated in offseason workouts, injuries can be thrown aside as a reason if Osemele struggles in his third NFL season.
If he can return to his 2012 form, though, his talent alone will be a noticeable improvement to the offensive line.
Lineman to keep an eye on: Jeremy Zuttah – As mentioned above, Baltimore’s investment in Zuttah made it clear that he will be the team’s sustainable solution at center.
Expectations will probably be low for Zuttah, who can win over the support of the fans by providing any noticeable improvement over Gradkowski, but Zuttah can provide more than simply not being as bad as his predecessor.
Probably the least talked about offseason addition, Zuttah was one of general manager Ozzie Newsome’s smartest moves. He should fit into the offense well as he is quite the athlete, and his experience at center should ease the transition process.
Baltimore interior offensive line was the majority of the problem in 2013, but expect Zuttah to be a factor in the rebuild, and an immediate contributor for the team.