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Leading up to the start of training camp, 24×7 will preview the 2007 Baltimore Ravens position-by-position. Today we will analyze the offensive line.
The Super Bowl champion Colts were the only other team in the league that allowed fewer sacks than the Ravens did last season. The unit gave up just 17 sacks, a total that was reduced by more than half the amount of sacks given up a year ago (42). With less negative yardage to overcome and more time to get rid of the ball, McNair was able to lead the pass offense to a top 12 ranking.
On the flip side, the rush offense was abysmal. In certain games, the line was able to establish a physical and overpowering tempo. However, there was not enough consistency week-to-week. Although not all of the teamâ€™s struggles can be pinned on the lineâ€™s inability to open up gapping holes â€“ there were times when lead back Jamal Lewis also failed to find the holes â€“ there clearly needs to be an improvement.
In order to get the line back to its dominating run blocking form from years past, the front office used its first-round pick to snag Ben Grubbs, the top offensive guard from the â€˜07 draft, and added Iowa lineman Marshal Yanda in round three. The two rookies should provide spirited competition to a line that could feature up to three new starters on opening day.
Starter(s): It would have been surreal to see another tackle other than Jonathan Ogden anchor the blindside. Such was a possibility that the organization had to ponder, as Ogden mulled over his future in Baltimore for months until finally deciding to return for his 12th season.
Ogden had one of his finest seasons as a pass blocker in â€˜06. Ogden more than held his own in match-ups against Simeon Rice, Shawn Merriman, Will Smith, Justin Smith, Joey Porter, Jared Allen and Dwight Freeney. Using his long wingspan and coordination to keep pass rushers at bay, Ogden remains the standard by which all other left tackles are measured.
That said, the future Hall of Famer can stand to improve his run blocking skills, which have slipped over the years. Ogden is still effective, but not as dominant as he once was.
Unquestionably, third-year left guard Jason Brown benefited from playing next to the franchise pillar. The former Tar Heel served as a capable complement to Ogden on the left side, as he was rarely beaten off the snap and moved his feet well in run blocking situations.
Mike Flynn has occupied the hub for the past six seasons, but this may be his swansong year with the team. Flynn remains a respected leader, capable of directing his linemates when offensive adjustments need to be made up front. In fact, Flynnâ€™s ability to coordinate with McNair on audibles was a major reason for why the front had so much success in picking up the blitz.
Still, Flynn lacks the physical strength to hold up against stouter defensive lineman. He is prone to getting driven back if he doesnâ€™t establish his position quickly once the ball is snapped. As a run blocker, Flynn had a bounce back season and especially did a nice job on angle blocks.
Although it remains to be seen whether Keydrick Vincent will run with the first team in camp, itâ€™s safe to say he wonâ€™t give up his job willingly. The former Steeler is in the best shape of his career. Although he struggled at times, Vincent played better than he did in â€˜05, especially in pass protection.
Adam Terry takes over at right tackle for Tony Pashos, who departed to Jacksonville. He will need to prove that he can handle the transition from the left to right side. While Terry has the quickness and sound technique to hold up against speed rushers, he may have trouble against traditional strong side ends.
Backups: Chris Chester will be given every opportunity to supplant Vincent or Flynn. The second-year project from Oklahoma is still a raw and developing interior lineman, but he is a quick study, and may be ready for prime time. In order to prevent from wearing down at the end of the season, Chester added muscle to his frame.
Between the two positions, center seems like a better fit for Chester, especially since Brown (also capable of playing center) had such a solid season at guard and Grubbs is the future at the other guard spot.
Grubbs is a prospect ready to log significant playing time right away. He is a clean player with few flaws, although he will need to do a better job of bending his knees at the next level.
Yanda may end up being the teamâ€™s utility player, as he has experience playing at guard and tackle. Given his lack of ideal size, most experts believe that he has greater potential as a guard than a tackle. That said, there are a number of shorter lineman that have had successful careers at the tackle position, so Yanda may be able to break the mold as well. He is a tenacious, technically sound competitor, who exhibits a mean streak.