Relying on eight years of NFL experience, D.J. Fluker stays ready at a moment's notice. His moment has arrived.
Fluker became the starting right tackle in Week 8 after All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley went down with a season-ending ankle injury. Orlando Brown Jr. switched from right to left tackle and Fluker's role dramatically changed from rarely playing to playing every snap.
Being a starter is nothing new for Fluker. He had started all but four games over his previous seven NFL seasons before landing in Baltimore. But playing right tackle is an adjustment. He hadn't played there since 2014, his second year in the league.
Fluker has handled things like a pro. Seeing his friend and teammate Stanley go down during the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers was shocking, but Fluker grabbed his helmet and went to work.
Against the Steelers, the Ravens rushed for 265 yards against one of the NFL's best defensive fronts, with Fluker throwing some key blocks. During last weekend's victory over the Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore's offense struggled in the first half, but performed better in the second half to help the Ravens earn a hard-fought 24-10 victory.
The Ravens will be relying on Fluker during the second half of the season to help bring consistency to an offensive line that has been presented with unexpected challenges. Not only is Stanley gone, but right guard Tyre Phillips (ankle) also went down in the Steelers game and is on injured reserve, with Patrick Mekari starting in Phillips' place.
With 88 career starts, Fluker is Baltimore's most experienced offensive lineman. Now that he has an opportunity to play often, Fluker plans to play well.
"I've played right tackle before, and when someone goes down we're all expected to step up," Fluker said. "You know how hard we practice and play around here. We have high expectations every day. That's what I knew about the Ravens before I came here, and now I know for sure. That's one of the great things about playing here."
When the Ravens signed Fluker during the offseason, many people expected him to become the new starting right guard, filling the position long occupied by retired Pro Bowler Marshal Yanda. Instead, Phillips won the starting job at right guard, and Fluker only played in one of the first three games.
Fluker says he never sulked about not starting from Day 1. After being released by the Seattle Seahawks in April, Fluker went on a strenuous diet and exercise offseason program, reducing his body fat from 44 percent to 22 percent. His body transformation has made him quicker, yet he's still powerful enough to play the physical style that helps power Baltimore's potent running.
Meanwhile, Fluker's versatility has been on display since Week 1. When Stanley suffered a hip injury against the Cleveland Browns, Fluker stepped in at left tackle and played the final 24 snaps. Fluker got his first start at right tackle in Week 4 against the Washington Redskins, when Stanley sat out with a shoulder injury.
Joining the Ravens has allowed Fluker to reunite with Offensive Line Coach Joe D'Alessandris. Fluker first connected when D'Alessandris when he was with the San Diego Chargers, who drafted Fluker in the first round in 2013. Fluker loves the way players respond to D'Alessandris' coaching style, and says he still learns from the veteran coach.
"Joe D. brings it out of you," Fluker said. "We've had injuries along the line, but we're still working, not making excuses. That Colts game was something we can build from. It wasn't going our way early. We hung in there, fought, battled back.
"I didn't know if I would start or not when I first came here. I didn't know exactly what the coaches would decide. But it's my job to be ready, to help the young guys, and to learn this system. I feel more comfortable now than I did in training camp. I feel fresh. I'm ready."
During his stops with the Chargers (2013-16), Giants (2017) and Seahawks (2018-19) Fluker has only been to the playoffs three times in his career, and he has yet to reach the Super Bowl. He's not looking past Sunday night's game against the New England Patriots, but Fluker believes in the Ravens' potential.
The Ravens knew replacing Yanda would be difficult, and losing Stanley was another severe blow. But Fluker believes in the offensive line, and he's determined to play well at right tackle to help the Ravens accomplish their goals.
"The only game I'm thinking about right now is Sunday night at New England," Fluker said. "But do I think this team is capable of doing special things down the road? Of course. Your role might change, but the goal doesn't change. That's how I'm approaching it."