Assessing the Ravens' offensive line is not unlike assessing a sophisticated piece of modern art – you know, one of those paintings where you can't exactly tell what it is.
To like it, you have to accept that there are some blurry lines and fuzziness, maybe a bit of chaos ... maybe more than a bit of chaos at times.
Some of those modern art paintings sell for a lot of money, and similarly, the situation with the Ravens' offensive line tends to work out, as evidenced by the team's powerful running game, high-octane offense, five straight trips to the playoffs, etc. Just don't expect things with the line to be military-style ordered, easily understood. Don't expect the season, or the offseason, to unfold without gray areas emerging. Those are pretty much permanent.
When Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh says his line is "a work in progress," it's usually early in a season, but honestly, the line is always a work in progress. Shoot, the Ravens engineered a radical realignment on the eve of their Super Bowl run. They won it all with a line that was a work in progress.
Now, a typical slate of questions about the line has crystallized in the offseason. Is Gino Gradkowski ready to take over at center for retired Matt Birk? Should the team bring back left tackle Bryant McKinnine? Is Kelechi Osemele a better fit at right tackle or left guard? Will Michael Oher switch sides again? Is Jah Reid a starter?
Fans are expecting answers, but it might be wise not to expect the Ravens to answer* *those questions one by one, rat-a-tat, until the state of their line is crystal clear. That usually doesn't happen.
Entering his fifth season, Oher is still being shuttled between the left and right sides. He looked terrific in the playoffs on the right side, but could head back to the left side in 2013 if McKinnie or another left tackle isn't on the roster by September. It depends on what else happens.
Osemele far exceeded expectations for a second-round pick in 2012, starting every regular season and postseason game at right tackle and then left guard. His mauling abilities probably make him a better fit inside, at guard, where he excelled in the playoffs, but where he ends up in 2013 could depend on (all together now) what else happens.
In a perfect world, the Ravens would have five clear-cut starters who belong at certain positions and could just be rolled out every week, no questions asked. But the Ravens haven't had that perfect world since, well, it's hard to remember when.
Things were pretty ordered when Jonathan Ogden was stationed at left tackle, making All-Pro every year. But since he retired five years ago, several guys have rolled through his slot, and that and free agency have helped create uncertainty.
These days, the only slam-dunk lock is that Marshal Yanda will line up at right guard, where he has become a Pro Bowl regular.
Oher and Osemele can also be projected into slots, but where? I would put Oher at right tackle and Osemele at left guard, where they excelled in the playoffs, and then I would find a new left tackle, maybe in the draft, although it's hard to find a good one picking as low as the Ravens.
McKinnie? He was a crucial piece of the playoff puzzle, but I have my doubts about the Ravens' faith in him to hold up for an entire season. And that uncertainty alone generates numerous questions. Should the Ravens, in fact, draft a left tackle? Is there another veteran on the open market who could be plugged in? Or should they just draft a right tackle and move Oher back over?
The questions roll on, one after another.
In the end, when the Ravens kick off the 2013 season, they will have five guys starting on the line, presumably their best quartet, arranged for maximum efficiency. But change can still occur after that, right up to and through the playoffs. A final horn doesn't sound. There are always questions, options, points to debate. There just are, get used to it.