When you’re large enough to warrant your own congressman, and publicly share an affection for eating squirrels, it’s safe to assume you are going to receive some attention from those in your adopted hometown.
But the Ravens are going to need more than folksy stories and Bunyan-esque proportions from rookie guard Ben Cleveland this year if they are going to get to where they hope to ascend on offense. They are going to need the Georgia product to seize control of the left guard position early, and set off a chain reaction on their line that can unlock this offense’s potential.
The Ravens have professional options at the position. Patrick Mekari, Ben Powers and Ben Bredeson have all shown various levels of competency at this level. In fact, we have much more information on them as professionals at this point than we do Cleveland. But none have displayed, to this point, the type of physical upside as the imposing rookie. In a power offense, Cleveland adds upper-echelon power, and if he can show throughout the preseason process that he is the best man for the job, the impact could be felt along the entire line.
Assuming a return to health, top-tier left tackle Ronnie Stanley should man that position at a better clip than 90-percent of the league. To Cleveland’s right would be former guard Bradley Bozeman, moving back to the position he excelled at in college and possibly his best fit on the line. If Cleveland can ably hold his own between those two established players, the Ravens would not be forced to leave in a tight end on that side or favor fullback Patrick Ricard in obvious passing situations.
With addition Kevin Zeitler presumably solidifying the right guard spot that showed to be a significant weakness for much of last season, and the gigantic Alejandro Villanueva moving into right tackle, there wouldn’t be an obvious weakness for defenses to exploit. This would allow them to move class-bully Nick Boyle around to where he could best help out, according to matchups. An offensive line without glaring weaknesses is an offensive line that can gameplan to specific opponents, as opposed to constantly having to protect that leaky spot, game in and game out.
Plus, out of my own perverted pleasure of gratuitous on-field violence, I really enjoy the idea of Gus Edwards coming in hot behind Ricard and a pulling Cleveland as they join forces with Boyle to explode a 220-pound nickel linebacker and a slot corner.
So… there’s that.
Cleveland will have to look good to beat out those veterans in front of him. We know coach John Harbaugh awards playing time to those who he feels most comfortable with on the field at any given time, as opposed to just anointing a young guy to his position without a fight — particularly when he has veteran options at his disposal. If Cleveland comes out on top for Week 1, it’s pretty safe to assume he earned his spot.
And that should set off a chain reaction along the line that can maximize this offense’s potential.