PLEASE NOTE:The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed on BaltimoreRavens.com represent those of individual authors, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions or policies of the Baltimore Ravens' organization, front office staff, coaches and executives. Authors' views are formulated independently from any inside knowledge and/or conversations with Ravens officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.
Oniel Cousins got a taste at starting right tackle last season. Now he's preparing as if he's going to be there full-time.
With rumors of a Jared Gaither trade swirling, Cousins could stand in line for a larger role in the 2010 offense.
But is he ready for it? Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron thinks so.
"I have a tremendous amount of confidence in Oniel Cousins," Cameron said. "If Oniel Cousins winds up being the starter, we are playing with a starter. We're not playing with a backup. This kid has starter ability."
Cousins, 25, has been at the team's voluntary workouts from the beginning and is quite often the last lineman to leave the weight room.
"I always try to go that extra yard to get myself ready to go," Cousins said. "We all have our goals. My goal is to be a starter here and win a championship. Nobody came here to be a backup."
Cousins, a 2008 third-round pick from the University of Texas-El Paso, proved he could handle a starting role last year. When Gaither missed three games from Weeks 13 to 15 with a foot injury, Michael Oher slid to the left side and Cousins moved into the right tackle spot.
Cousins helped the Ravens record a franchise-record 548 total yards against the Detroit Lions, then protected Joe Flacco when the Ravens quarterback threw for four touchdowns against the Bears.
The blemish on Cousins' 2009 record was a costly unsportsmanlike penalty in Pittsburgh and then surrendering back-to-back sacks by Pro Bowl linebacker Lamaar Woodley as the Ravens made a final-minute push. But Woodley has done that to a lot of tackles, let alone players starting their third career game.
"I thought last year he played extremely well against Chicago and Detroit," Cameron said. "He was dominant. He got his opportunity and made the most of it."
Cameron said he was Cousins' biggest critic during the 2008 season. Cousins had a great deal of potential with his 6-foot-4, 314-pound frame, but he was in a spread offense in college and was a bit overwhelmed in the NFL at first.
Now Cameron says Cousins is one of Baltimore's most improved offensive players over the past two seasons.
Cousins has improved his technique and added about 15 pounds of muscle. He now has the strength of a right tackle and feet of a left tackle, Cameron said. Remaining healthy will be key for the third-year player, who dealt with a knee injury last season.
"He is a tremendous competitor, extremely tough, very prideful," Cameron said. "Usually guys like that just get better and better and better. Who knows how good this guy can get?"