OWINGS MILLS — Joe Flacco rarely hit the dirt last season, sacked roughly twice per game.
And Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice bolted for a career-high 1,364 rushing yards and a dozen touchdown runs.
There were instances, though, where the Baltimore Ravens’ offensive line was unable to budge big defensive linemen in the red zone and Flacco was under duress.
And the departure of Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs via free agency to the New Orleans Saints represents a significant talent drain. Grubbs was the Ravens’ top all-around blocker.
So, the offensive line remains the Ravens’ greatest need heading into the NFL draft this week.
“They’re going to be a team that I think will address the offensive line at some point,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said. “They could go the center-guard. They could also look at an offensive tackle. I think it’ll probably fall, either a Peter Konz from Wisconsin, a Kevin Zeitler from Wisconsin, who’s a guard, a real mauler upfront.”
Although the Ravens have shifted 6-foot-7, 335-pound former third-round tackle Jah Reid to Grubbs’ old left guard spot, he’s unproven at his new position.
Center Matt Birk is 35 years old and contemplated retirement before deciding to return and acknowledged he’ll decide on a yearly basis whether he’ll continue to play.
Plus, left tackle Bryant McKinnie struggled with his conditioning last year and is in a contract year.
“I don’t think that has changed much from the end of the season,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “We need to add some players on the offensive line.”
Fortunately for the Ravens, their need intersects with an area of strength in this draft.
The Ravens could have several intriguing options available to them when they’re on the clock Thursday night with the 29th overall pick of the first round.
They could land their center of the future and perhaps their left guard of the present by drafting Wisconsin center Peter Konz.
Konz is an athletic, intelligent 6-5, 315-pound lineman who has drawn several comparisons to Birk.
He’s the player most often linked to the Ravens.
“He’s got the size,” Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said. “That’s to me a big indicator if a guy can do it. We’ve considered all those different things. It’s a matter of working a guy out sometimes, putting him through the paces at the position.
“I think he’s played a little bit of guard in his past. I don’t know that it’s a really hard transition, center and guard. Other than the fact that you have to snap the ball, some of the same skill sets are there. I don’t think it’s a huge transition.”
Konz visited the Ravens, and offensive line coach Andy Moeller and an area scout both attended his most recent Pro Day.
The question marks surrounding Konz are his durability and strength, but he has recovered from a dislocated ankle suffered last season and improved his bench press from 18 reps at the NFL scouting combine to 23 reps at his Pro Day campus workout.
What separates Konz from Zeitler is his athleticism and ability to block in the open field and get to the second level.
“I think I was first recognized because I was running out on the edges and was able to get out on the corners and safeties and not a lot of guys had been doing that,” Konz said. “I think that’s one thing that helped me a lot. Then just my size.
“It’s not normal to see a guy who was hoping to play tackle and then move all the way inside to center. It’s been an amazing ride. I love having the ability to make the calls, to make the adjustments, to be that center guy and to be able to communicate with everybody and get everything going on the right track.”
Zeitler is a bulldozing presence who’s considered ready to step in immediately and begin grappling with hefty defensive linemen.
He has an aggressive reputation and is known as a perfectionist.
Zeitler had 142 knockdown blocks, the most in college football, with 33 blocks that resulted in touchdowns.
“Zeitler is a good player, had a good week at the Senior Bowl,” DeCosta said. “Played really well in the game, not as well in the practices.”
At this point, versatile University of Georgia offensive tackle-guard Cordy Glenn isn’t expected to make it to the Ravens’ first-round pick.
The 6-6, 345-pounder had a great scouting combine where he ran the 40-yard dash in 5.15 seconds and bench pressed 225 pounds 31 times. He also excelled at the Senior Bowl against elite pass rushers.
If Glenn was somehow still around at the Ravens’ pick, he’s a player they would likely have heavy interest in acquiring.
“He’s a swing guy,” DeCosta said. “He’s played some left tackle, left guard, right tackle, right guard, has some versatility.”
Ohio State lineman Mike Adams fits the prototype at left tackle, but the 6-6, 325-pounder had a sluggish combine where he also tested positive for marijuana.
Adams also had off-field issues for the Buckeyes and was suspended twice. That could downgrade him to the second round.
“Hard call on Mike Adams,” Kiper said. “Mike Adams is a guy with enormous athletic ability and talent. He looks like a top 10 pick, top 15 pick. You look at him when he played and the inconsistencies at left tackle. He’s got to get stronger as well. I think you look at Mike Adams as a guy that, hey, somebody could roll the dice in the late first round or he could fall into the second very easily.
“He’s one of those guys, he’s got kind of that boom or bust tag, but he’s got to get stronger. He’s got to get more of an attitude to move people off that line and be more aggressive as a run blocker and be more consistent in pass protection. You can’t have lapses of concentration in the NFL because the quarterback is the key.”
Should the Ravens go in a different direction in the first round such as drafting a pass rusher, an inside linebacker, a wide receiver or a safety, they can still find interior offensive linemen and tackles later in the draft.
The Ravens worked out Georgia center Ben Jones and Delaware center Gino Gradkowski privately and brought in Gradkowski and Miami (Ohio) offensive guard Brandon Brooks for visits. They have been Oklahoma State offensive tackle Levy Adcock.
The Ravens have also made their interest known in Midwestern State offensive guard Amini Silatolu.
Silatolu visited or had private workouts with 20 NFL teams, including the Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys, St. Louis Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers, Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts and the Carolina Panthers.
The 6-foot-4, 311-pounder starred at the Division II level at the Wichita Falls, Texas school and was named a consensus All-American as a left tackle.
However, he projects to offensive guard in the NFL.
He’s regarded as a late first-round, early second-round draft target.
“I think we have players in every round that we like,” DeCosta said. “Usually, there’s a match there for us. At any point in any round, we have a couple of players to choose from.”