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Healthy Kelechi Osemele Looking To Return To Dominance

Posted Jun 1, 2014

Kelechi Osemele has to put in more maintenance on his back, but is feeling 100 percent.

There’s a very large (literally and figuratively) addition to the Ravens’ offensive line this week at organized team activities.

It’s finally healthy 6-foot-5, 330-pound left guard Kelechi Osemele.

Osemele “jumped out” at Head Coach John Harbaugh during Organized Team Activities (OTAs) on Thursday, and has been declared 100 percent healthy.

“K.O. was really practicing fast, sprinting back to the huddle or back to the line when he was done after every single play, almost making a point to condition himself during practice,” Harbaugh said. “He’s in really exceptional condition.”

Osemele’s return from a season-ending back injury is a critical factor to the Ravens’ offensive success this season. Baltimore dearly missed its former second-round draft pick in the trenches last season when it ranked last in average rushing yards per carry (3.1) and fourth in sacks allowed (48).

The Ravens traded for center Jeremy Zuttah, but otherwise didn’t make any major additions to upgrade their offensive line. They re-signed left tackle Eugene Monroe and are expecting Osemele’s return and Marshal Yanda’s improved shoulder to make a big difference. The Ravens need Osemele to return to his strong rookie form – or better.

It wasn’t that long ago that Osemele was dominating in Super Bowl XLVII. Quarterback Joe Flacco was named the MVP, but the second-best performance in that game, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), was turned in by Osemele.

“I don’t see any reason why I can’t get to that point again,” Osemele said. “I’m feeling really good.”

Osemele said his back injury dates back to college. The Ravens discovered a bulging disc when Osemele started having pain run down his leg during the training camp of his rookie season. It wasn’t bad enough to have surgery at the time, which linemen especially try to avoid.

But last offseason, Osemele injured the back further lifting weights. He tried to play through the pain, but wasn’t the same player. Osemele received negative grades from PFF in five of the seven games.

Converted center A.Q. Shipley stepped in for Osemele in Week 5, and Osemele was placed on injured reserve after seven weeks, ending his season.

“We just kept trying to push through it, and then it finally got to the point where to the disc was getting worse,” Osemele said. “Every MRI I got, fluid was leaking out into my spinal canal. It was affecting my overall health.”

Osemele had minimally invasive surgery in November, which shaved off part of his disc and put it back in place. After waiting the three months for it to heal, Osemele altered his offseason lifting regimen to remove all Olympic-style lifts (power clean, dead lift, front squat, etc.). He now lifts weights that swing like a pendulum so there’s less compression on his spine.

The biggest change is the overall maintenance he has to do to keep his back in shape, from icing it to deep tissue massages. Osemele said he just has to put in two or three extra hours every day.

“It’s kind of annoying to have to do that, but it makes me feel good,” Osemele said, adding that he has no pain at this point. “It’s a permanent change. It’s just routine now, a part of life now in order to play football.”

After being switched to his more natural position of left guard last season, Osemele had visions of heading to the Pro Bowl. Those haven’t changed, despite coming off the back surgery. Osemele feels like he has his best shot now because he’s at last healthy.

“That’s definitely a goal of mine and will always be a goal,” he said. “No matter how many Super Bowls I win, I probably won’t be satisfied until I’m going to Pro Bowls.”

There’s still a chance Osemele could be asked to play right guard if Rick Wagner or other players aren’t ready to start. Osemele played there for his entire rookie regular season. But Osemele said coaches haven’t yet mentioned to him moving to right tackle.

“To my knowledge, [guard is] my position,” he said. “That’s the reason why I was drafted, to play that spot.”

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