The start of the 2014 season is still a long way away, and there are a lot of additions and subtractions that can be made.
But Head Coach John Harbaugh’s take on what the Ravens’ starting offensive lineup would look if a game was scheduled tomorrow sheds light on the team’s thoughts at the position.
So the starting offensive line, as it stands now, is: LT Monroe, LG Osemele, C Zuttah, RG Yanda, RT Wagner.
“What we have been able to construct at this point is depth,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve got a nice front. We feel like we’ve got the right kind of players in there that can be the type of offensive line that we envision – tough, physical, big, strong, fast offensive line and smart too. We could play right now, but we also want to get better.”
The Ravens got a critical piece on Sunday, trading a 2015 draft pick for Zuttah. While Zuttah has experience at guard and center, he’s expected to beat out
“We traded for Jeremy for him to be the starting center. That’s the plan,” Harbaugh said, adding that he had a good conversation with Gradkowski about it.
“Jeremy is a more experienced center/guard in this league. The thing I liked on tape – we studied him pretty hard – he’s a big, rangy guy. He’s got length, he’s got size in there, he’s got experience and he’s also got, we think, a knack for the scheme we’re going to run offensively. He’s a good fit for us.”
An option on the offensive line is Osemele, since he has experience at both right tackle and guard.
Osemele started all 16 regular-season games at right tackle in 2012, then shifted to left guard for the Super Bowl run. He remained there at the start of last season and said that’s what he preferred. Osemele’s season at left guard was cut short, however, due to season-ending back surgery.
Harbaugh said Osemele can play both positions, but that “right now, the plan is to play him at left guard.”
“That’s where I see him playing next year,” Harbaugh said. “Could that change? Certainly, with the draft and that kind of thing. But let’s keep him in there at left guard. He’s got a lot of experience in there right now, he’s comfortable there, he likes playing on the left side. It provides us with some real size inside, some length inside, which is good. We can run all those twists and games and things in there, keep the pocket deep for Joe. That’s where we’re going right now and we’ll see how it plays out.”
So if Osemele stays at left guard, the remaining question mark is at right tackle since Michael Oher went to Tennessee in free agency.
Wagner, who the Ravens drafted out of Wisconsin in the fifth round last year, was Oher’s backup in 2013. He was active for all 16 games and technically got two starts as an extra blocker in run formations. Reid was a backup at left guard and was active for 10 games.
“We are really confident in Rick and Jah,” Harbaugh said. “Those are two guys that will compete for the right tackle spot.”
Harbaugh said that Wagner didn’t play well early on. He was thrust into action in the regular-season opener in Denver when Oher got hurt, and Harbaugh said he was “kind of overwhelmed.” His early struggles extended beyond that as well.
“Rick’s the kind of guy that it seems like his personality is where he really needs to know what he’s doing before he really can cut it loose,” Harbaugh said.
“We put him in that role as a move tight end with the extra offensive lineman down at the goal line in short-yard situations and he was very bad at it early and he became very good at it toward the end. You start to learn how a guy thinks, so you learn how to teach him a little bit. I think he’s going to be a guy that’s going to need a lot of reps to gain his confidence. And once he gains confidence in his techniques, he’ll be really good at it.”
Harbaugh said he believes Wagner will improve greatly under the teachings of Offensive Line Coach Juan Castillo.
Reid is a former third-round pick (the Ravens traded up to grab him) who is very athletically gifted, but has yet to find a position and flourish. He is coming off a recent arrest and two misdemeanor battery charges, which provides extra motivation to turn his career path around.
As of now, Wagner has the edge.
“Rick probably goes in as the starting right tackle right now. That’s the way I see it,” Harbaugh said, adding that it holds little weight in March.
“He and Jah [Reid] 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.”