Oh, what a difference a year makes.
After fielding one of the most inept offensive lines in recent memory in 2013, the Baltimore Ravens constructed one of the NFL’s premier blocking units last season. Through the success of a distinguished starting five as well as capable depth up front, the offense was able to find its rhythm early in 2014.
Heading into this year’s training camp, all five starters return, as well as key backups John Urschel and James Hurst. Looking to build on a strong 2014 performance, the offensive linemen have propelled themselves to the top of Baltimore’s positional units.
What does this season have in store for the men up front?
Notable new addition: Robert Myers – With all key contributors returning, the Ravens had no need to make any key signings or trades along the offensive line. However, the front office still kept the future in consideration and opted to add depth during the draft with the selection of Myers in the fifth round.
After selecting Urschel last year, Myers simply gives the Ravens another body behind the second-year pro and first-choice backup. But next year, with Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele both set to be free agents (and Yanda being the popular choice to stay with the team), a starting guard spot will open, thus giving both Urschel and Myers a chance to win an expanded role with the offense.
In year one, “Quadzilla” is a developmental player: a bruising 6’5 blocker who has plenty of quickness for his size. The preseason will be valuable to Myers. He may not get a chance – barring injury – to touch the field during the regular season.
Player with most to prove: Eugene Monroe – The head-scratching outlier of the 2014 offensive line was Monroe, who was far and away the team’s best offensive lineman in 2013. After signing Monroe to a mega five-year deal before last season, it seemed that the Ravens finally got the franchise left tackle they had been searching for since Jonathan Ogden retired.
But Monroe failed to live up to his contract in year one of the deal. If he fails to do so again, he may never see all five years of that salary in Baltimore. While not a weak point of the offense in 2014, Monroe was expected to be Baltimore’s top offensive tackle. He quite easily lost the billing to right tackle Ricky Wagner.
Throw in the fact that Monroe suited up for, but did not play in the Divisional Round matchup against New England and you have the perfect formula for a player looking to prove himself this year.
Player to follow: Ricky Wagner – One of the most pleasant surprises last season was the stellar play of Rick Wagner, a second-year player who earned sparse snaps as a rookie in 2013. After effortlessly winning the starting right tackle job in training camp, Wagner went on to show the makings of a potential franchise option on the right side.
But after a late-season foot injury, Wagner missed out on the postseason and 2015 offseason activities. However, he is expected to be ready for training camp. Wagner should be monitored not only to see whether he is back to 100% by Week 1, but also to see if his 2014 success is sustainable.
He sure looked like a franchise player last year. Can he confirm that belief this season?
Potential surprise: Kelechi Osemele earns first Pro Bowl berth this season – The combination of Osemele’s stellar play during his first three seasons and the fact that he is in a contract year sets up for a big fourth year for the left guard.
After establishing himself as one of the NFL’s best young guards last season, the added stakes of a contract year gives more incentive for Osemele to have a triumphant season, which could end with a trip to the Pro Bowl.
His counterpart – Yanda – has earned four Pro Bowl berths in his career. It may be time for Osemele to join the club. A Pro Bowl-caliber Osemele in 2015 is a win-win for the Ravens. They will get one more valuable year from Osemele, and then would receive a high compensatory pick if he signs elsewhere next offseason.
If Osemele can stay healthy for all 16 games – a feat he has only achieved one time in his career – a season of accolades may be in store for #72.