The second-year offensive lineman will enter a competition for the starting right tackle spot, and he’s the early favorite to win the job.
“It’s a really exciting opportunity,” Wagner said during a phone interview. “I think it’s a great spot for me right now. There is going to be some competition, but I’m excited and I think I perform better when there is competition.”
Wagner, a fifth-round draft pick last year, has spent his offseason in his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. He has worked with some old teammates, and has focused his training on making the switch to right tackle.
Wagner played both tackle spots in college, but he started at left tackle his last two seasons. As a rookie last year, Wagner worked at right and left tackle in practice because he was a backup for both spots.
“The big thing is getting more comfortable on the right side,” Wagner said. “It’s kind of like doing a left-handed layup if you’re a righty, of a right-handed layup if you’re left handed. You can do it, but it’s a comfort thing. It just took a little bit of time. I worked at it a lot last season, but this offseason I just feel more comfortable.”
The right tackle position is one of the biggest question marks for the Ravens, as they have already made moves to shore up other positions along the line. Left tackle
The rotation along the line could also change based on what the Ravens do in the draft.
“Rick probably goes in as the starting right tackle right now,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said last week at the NFL owners meetings. “That’s the way I see it. We aren’t playing a game right now so it really doesn’t matter. He and Jah will be competing and Jah is very determined right now as he should be. It’s going to be a good battle and we’ll see if we add somebody in the mix.”
Wagner played in every game last season, and was mostly used as an extra blocker in jumbo packages. His most extensive playing time came in Week 1 against the Denver Broncos when starter Michael Oher went down with an ankle injury, and Wagner was thrust into action. He struggled that first game, and ended up allowing three sacks.
After that first game, Wagner settled into his role as an extra lineman in short-yardage situations and earned a positive grade in every game but one the rest of the season, according to Pro Football Focus.
“Last year was a great experience because I kind of got the best of both worlds. I got some playing time so I could adjust to that speed, but I could also sit back and watch the older guys to get a good grasp of the playbooks, and observe from a distance,” Wagner said.
Now Wagner will hope to continue that development, and prove to the coaching staff over the next few months that he’s ready to take on a larger role as a starter.
“I just want to be a consistent guy across the board, whether it’s run or pass protection. I want to be a consistent guy, a smart player who knows the playbook from front to back,” Wagner said. “I think there is just such little room for error, and you’re definitely paying attention to every detail. And you want to make sure you’re showing your best game for the coaches.”