Rookie offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele started every game during the preseason.
He saw time at right tackle and left guard, and was a consistent presence on the first-team unit. As the Ravens head into the regular-season opener next Monday against the Cincinnati Bengals, Osemele expects to have a continued significant role in the offense, even if he's not in the starting lineup.
"Not really sure how things are going to go as far as starting or at what point, but it feels like I'll have a pretty substantial role as far as what my coaches have been saying," Osemele said on Monday.
Head Coach John Harbaugh confirmed on Tuesday that Osemele will have a significant role, but would not say if he would start over veteran Bobbie Williams at left guard or who the five the starters would be.
"I don't think we'll be disclosing that at this time," Harbaugh said. "But there will be five guys starting and we do have a plan."
While Osemele worked extensively with the starters throughout training camp, much of that work came as the line was going through changes or dealing with injuries.
Williams (ankle) and starting right guard Marshal Yanda (leg) missed time during training camp, and veteran left tackle Bryant McKinnie missed the start of camp and had to get into better shape once he did arrive. When McKinnie, Yanda or Williams came out of the starting lineup during the practice or games, Osemele would play in their place.
But now McKinnie, Yanda and Williams all look healthy heading into the regular season – along with center Matt Birk and tackle Michael Oher – so it's unclear who will be the odd man out of the starting lineup.
"They've got it down pat; they make very little mistakes," Osemele said about the five veterans. "They've been in mid-season form since we've started, so they look good. I'm just trying to catch up and get to where they are at, which is going to take me a while. As far as the front five, those guys are ready to go."
Regardless of whether he's in the starting lineup, Osemele expects to continue shuffling around on the line early in the season.
"I'm pretty sure I will probably be moved around a little, probably just for depth reasons and for experience reasons, just because they want me to be versatile," Osemele said. "As the season progresses and we kind of know our guys, then I will probably be at one spot or the other."
The Ravens second-round pick started at left tackle during his college career at Iowa State, but has quickly adjusted to playing numerous spots on the line. He's athletic enough to hold off quick pass rushers coming off the edge, but he also has the ability to pull block from the guard spot and create running lanes.
"At first coming into it I had a preference for tackle, but now that I've played guard and I actually enjoy it – I actually think it is a little bit easier," Osemele said. "You just don't have the range difficulties at guard, and you don't face the same type of athletes that you do at tackle. So, it just makes it easier."
If Osemele does crack the starting lineup, it would likely be at right tackle or left guard, meaning that McKinnie or Williams would be left off the first-team unit.
Osemele is competing with Williams for that left guard spot, but the rookie said that the veteran has been helpful to him throughout the preseason.
"He's a really wise guy," Osemele said. "He has all the experience in the world. Really most of the things that's he's been teaching me aren't really physical, it's just how to be mentally prepared for a game and to be mentally prepared to go to battle."
That mental preparation will be put to the test next Monday, when Osemele takes the field in front of a national audience on Monday Night Football for what will likely be his biggest football experience to date.
"I'm looking forward to that and the crowd noise and just the whole environment, and really just soaking in that feeling of going out there for the first time and how hard you've worked to get out there," Osemele said. "I'm looking forward to that experience."