If left guard Alex Lewis cannot play Sunday, the Ravens will need a rookie offensive lineman to step up.
It could be Bradley Bozeman, or it could be Orlando Brown Jr.
Bozeman played the final 17 snaps at left guard Sunday after Lewis suffered a pinched nerve against the Tennessee Titans. Brown played just five snaps Sunday against the Titans, mostly as an extra blocker in jumbo formations.
However, Brown is a promising talent who was drafted higher (third round) than Bozeman (sixth round).
If Lewis cannot play against the New Orleans Saints, the Ravens could decide this is the time to insert Brown into the starting lineup and to switch James Hurst from right tackle to left guard. Hurst started 16 games at left guard in 2017, so the coaches know he can handle the job.
Whatever the decision, both Brown and Bozeman say they will accept it and be ready.
“I’m not happy about the circumstances, with Alex getting injured,” Bozeman said. “But everyone looks forward to playing. You prepare every day to be ready when your number is called. Whoever is named the starter is going to do a good job. They’re going to bust their butt to get the job done.”
Bozeman said the 17 snaps he got against the Titans served as a valuable learning experience. He was a center in college at Alabama and switching to guard has forced him to use different blocking techniques while adjusting to the NFL level. Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said after Sunday’s game that Bozeman replaced Lewis because he had practiced at that spot the entire week and Offensive Line Coach Joe D'Alessandris felt Bozeman was best suited to step in immediately.
“It was nice to get out there and see game action,” Bozeman said. “It’s been a little different for me playing guard, but I like it. Like anything else, you become more comfortable the more you do it and my coaches and teammates have been great.”
Brown competed with Hurst for the starting right tackle job during training camp and preseason, and nobody has questioned Brown’s talent. His family has NFL pedigree – his late father, Orlando Brown Sr., was an offensive lineman with the Ravens and Cleveland Browns. Listed at 6-foot-8, 345 pounds, Brown has a massive frame and still moves well.
At Oklahoma, Brown was a starting left tackle for two seasons protecting quarterback Baker Mayfield’s blindside. Brown decided to forego his final season of eligibility and entered the draft. Even after a less than stellar performance at the combine, Brown was the ninth offensive lineman chosen in the draft. He’s been a reliable practice player, working diligently to improve, patiently waiting his turn. Brown started every preseason game at right tackle when Hurst was injured, but Hurst stepped in once the regular season began.
“I wouldn’t say it has been tough waiting, because I’ve been at practice every day working hard to get better,” Brown said. “I’ve gotten some reps, gotten a chance to help my teammates, and if I get an opportunity to do more of that, I have confidence I’ll be ready.”
Brown is only 22 years old, and the Ravens are impressed with his upside. Ravens Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said both rookie offensive linemen had made significant strides since training camp.
“Brad did a heck of a job going into the ballgame initially, and Orlando we’ve played on and off,” Mornhinweg said. “Both could go into the ballgame and be effective.”
The offensive line has done a solid job protecting quarterback Joe Flacco, considering he has attempted 264 passes – more than any quarterback except Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts (288) – and been sacked just 11 times. Only eight quarterbacks who have started all year have been sacked less, and four of those came Week 2 against the Cincinnati Bengals. Flacco was not sacked once against Tennessee.
Run blocking has been a bigger issue with the Ravens line. Their rushing offense ranks 21st in the NFL, averaging 99.2 yards per game. They’re 31st in yards per carry (3.4). Whether Lewis, Bozeman or Brown starts, the Ravens want to generate more consistent openings for running backs Alex Collins, Javorius Allen and Gus Edwards.
The Saints defense ranks No. 1 in the NFL against the run, allowing just 71.4 yards per game and a league-best 3.1 yards per carry. So whoever starts on the offensive line will have their hands full. But if the Ravens do have to make a change, it could be a trial to see if a new combination works better for the run game
Brown and Bozeman say their job remains the same – get ready to play, and to play well.
“All of us want to keep winning,” Brown said. “The line, as a unit, we’re part of that. If we play well, we can help this team have success.”