Ravens Offensive Line Must Improve
The understatement of the year is to say that the Ravens go as Joe Flacco goes. Priority No. 1 is protecting Joe Flacco!
There’s really no compelling reason to believe that Ryan Mallett can lead the Ravens (or any team for that matter) into the postseason. Therefore it’s critical for the Ravens to bring Flacco along slowly and when he’s ready, protect him adequately.
Actually, more than adequately!
It’s been said that Flacco is responding extremely well to therapy. He’s been described by a team source as “genetically gifted” – meaning that he has a unique ability to avoid and recover from injuries more readily than his peers.
Of course his peers generally have much more efficient blind side protection than the likes of James Hurst, all of which brings us to one of the team’s offseason mysteries.
Who will be the Ravens starting left tackle?
The general consensus among fans and the media is to follow the blueprint set by Ozzie Newsome, Ted Marchibroda and rookie Jonathan Ogden in 1996. That is, let first-round pick LT Ronnie Stanley cut his NFL teeth as a guard, flanked by incumbent left tackle Eugene Monroe.
But the former Jaguar’s enigmatic ways only fuel the mystery.
Some believe that Monroe will be cut loose once he’s medically cleared (shoulder injury).
Such a move makes no practical sense other than clearing cap space ($6.5M in 2016), which could be used to add a veteran linebacker, corner or O-lineman. Or the Ravens could use the cap space to extend defensive tackle Brandon Williams before he becomes a free agent.
But there could be more than practical matters tied to a possible Monroe departure.
He’s played in just 17 of the team’s last 34 meaningful games. He refused to restructure his deal in 2015 to help the team create cap space and now his impassioned advocacy of medicinal marijuana in the NFL may become a nuisance for the club.
Maybe the best thing for both sides is to find common ground so that 2016 is a productive season for Monroe, after which the Ravens might have some trade value or more confidently pass the blind side baton to Stanley.
But don’t hold your breath!
If Monroe is let go the most likely O-Line starting lineup would be from left to right: Stanley-John Urschel–Jeremy Zuttah–Marshal Yanda-Rick Wagner. The most hotly contested spots are likely to be at left guard and center.
Urschel would appear to have the early edge at left guard but not by much. Urschel struggled at center in 2015 but has fared better at guard where he’ll face stiff competition from Ryan Jensen, rookie Alex Lewis and newcomer Vladimir Ducasse.
I know what you’re thinking – that these guys are stiffs.
But I digress.
One Ravens insider believes that Lewis, despite being listed as a tackle, could bump Urschel, Jensen and Ducasse aside.
Typically the Ravens keep nine offensive linemen so if you’re keeping score and assuming Monroe leaves, line coach Juan Castillo’s corps will consist of: Stanley; Urschel; Zuttah; Yanda; Wagner; Jensen; Lewis with another spot going to Ducasse and then in a mild upset one of the two UDFA centers Anthony Fabiano or Matt Skura may land a spot. Or that 9th player isn’t yet on the roster.
The last thing the team wants is for James Hurst to have to fill in for an injured Stanley.
We’ve seen what can happen when the former Tar Heel is forced into action at left tackle, and that’s when Flacco was more mobile.
If Hurst makes the team again, the Ravens failed to improve along the offensive front.
And that could render all other roster improvements meaningless.
Maybe John Harbaugh should just give Monroe a hug, a lifesaver and wipe the crust from his eyes to make him feel more at home – at least in 2016.
At the end of the day, Monroe just might be the Ravens best insurance policy for No. 5.
Unless of course kickoff time is 4:20.