Future Ravens Hall of Famer Hiding in Plain Sight
No, this headline is not referring to retired legendary linebacker Ray Lewis.
Not Ed Reed either.
(Even though both are potential first-ballot Hall of Famers.)
But as the image clearly suggests, another Raven who belongs in Canton, and nobody is talking about, is guard Marshal Yanda, says The Ringer's Robert Mays.
"Yanda is one of the sport's great talents, yet football fans outside of Baltimore barely know his name. In an age of unceasing information, he's a walking contradiction: a future Hall of Famer hiding in plain sight," Mays wrote.
"Entering his 11th season, Yanda is set to keep climbing — and quietly destroying all comers."
Being mentioned as a candidate for the gold jacket seemed unfathomable to Yanda as an undersized third-round rookie in 2007. That was Hall of Fame tackle Jonathan Ogden's final year in the league. Yanda remembers seeing a plaque above Ogden's locker that displayed all his accomplishments up to that point.
"I was like, 'This guy has made the Pro Bowl 10 years in a row?'" Yanda said of the 6-foot-9 Ogden, per The Ringer. "I'll never forget that plaque.
"I played right tackle in college, so I'd played 'tackle.' I walk [in], and I remember thinking, 'Holy [expletive]. How am I ever going to play on the same field with a man of that size?' He is a giant."
But what sets Yanda apart isn't his 6-foot-3, 305-pound frame. It's his hay-bailing farm toughness.
His own college head coach, Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, initially thought he'd made a mistake by allowing Yanda on the team. Yanda hung around "like a dog" at practice every day trying to get noticed … and it worked. Once the pads came on, everything changed. Every defensive lineman that lined up across from Yanda was stonewalled.
That trend continued into the NFL.
Perhaps the play that best illustrates Yanda's brilliance was when he sprung running back Justin Forsett for 23 yards in 2014 by taking on not one, not two, but three defenders.
"Yanda's assignment was fairly simple: help right tackle Rick Wagner double-team the defensive end before climbing up to block the inside linebacker," wrote Mays. "What transpired was nothing short of extraordinary. After giving the end a quick punch with his right hand, Yanda felt the nose tackle slipping his way, so he offered a quick nudge to aid center Jeremy Zuttah before finally getting to his man."
Yanda downplayed his performance, saying if that play was run another 1,000 times, it probably wouldn't work out like that again.
"The sequence may be a one-in-a-thousand shot for Yanda, but for most guys it's completely unfathomable," wrote Mays.
While right guard is Yanda's most natural position, he really didn't get to settle in there until 2011 – his fifth year in the league. He bounced back and forth between guard and right tackle prior to that point.
"I wanted to play guard so bad in 2010," Yanda said. "I had a frickin' great camp at guard. I was doing well. I was excited. And then 'Hey, we need you to play right tackle.' And of course, I didn't say nothin'."
Of course he didn't. That's not Yanda's style. He said he can "get it done, no question" at right tackle. But he's not tall enough to be dominant. Well, the next year, he finally got his wish and played all 16 games at guard.
To no one's surprise, that was the first time Yanda was voted into the Pro Bowl. He's gone to the All-Star game every year since.
Don't expect Yanda to get a big head, however. He knows that "complacency kills." He knows he's got a schedule full of defensive linemen gunning for him this year. Geno Atkins in Week 1. J.J. Watt on Monday Night Football. Ndamukong Suh on Thursday Night Football.
And if you want to compare Yanda to former greats, don't even think about it. At least, not in his presence.
"Yanda can peer into the weight room where he marveled at Ogden more than a decade ago," wrote Mays. "The difference these days is that now Yanda is the Pro Bowl fixture Baltimore's young players try to emulate. His career has become the one rookies aspire to have."
Says Yanda: "It took me five years before I made my first [Pro Bowl]. [Ogden and I are] in a different league."
Ray Lewis Headlines Next Year's Hall of Fame Candidates
Let's continue with a little more Hall of Fame talk as the 2017 class was officially inducted Saturday, including kicker Morten Andersen, safety Kenny Easley, Owner Jerry Jones, defensive end Jason Taylor, running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Terrell Davis and quarterback Kurt Warner.
Guess who has his first year of eligibility next year?
None other than Baltimore's Lewis, who might be the best linebacker of all-time, and many are expecting him to be inducted on his first try.
The folks at ESPN Stats and Information take a look at his resume:
"Lewis played 17 seasons and was a 12-time Pro Bowl selection. He remains tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer Junior Seau for the most Pro Bowl selections among linebackers. Lewis was named Defensive Player of the Year in 2000 and 2003 and is one of seven players to win the award twice. The award was first given out in 1971. Harvey Martin and Lewis are the only players to win a Super Bowl MVP and Defensive Player of the Year.
"Since sacks became official in 1982, Lewis remains the only player to have at least 40 sacks and 30 interceptions in an NFL career. … Lewis was a major piece of the 2000 Ravens, who won the Super Bowl and allowed the fewest points per game in a 16-game regular season at 10.3 (since 1978). They had nine games in which they allowed single-digit points, still the most in one season in the Super Bowl era (since 1966)."
Signing Austin Howard Is a Classic Ozzie Newsome Move
The Ravens made the signing of eight-year veteran right tackle Austin Howard official on Friday, and ESPN's Jamison Hensley said the move, although important, shouldn't surprise anybody.
"This is a classic Ozzie Newsome move," Hensley wrote.
"The Ravens' long-time general manager is known for making a shrewd pickup in training camp (or even later), and it's often intended to provide help or depth at offensive tackle."
Here are two examples:
- 2008, prior to the season opener: Willie Anderson signed to replace Adam Terry at right tackle. Anderson started most of the year, including in three playoff games.
- 2011, prior to the third preseason game: Bryant McKinnie signed to move Michael Oher to right tackle and replace Jah Reid. McKinnie started all 16 games, that season, and helped anchor the offensive line in the Super Bowl run the following season.
"In light of [quarterback Joe] Flacco's back injury, the Ravens had to make this type of move now in order to bolster the protection around their franchise quarterback," Hensley wrote. "Baltimore couldn't keep three-year starter Rick Wagner in free agency. He became the second highest-paid right tackle with an average of $9.5 million per season ($47.5 million over five years).
"At age 30, Howard doesn't have as much upside as Wagner. He does provide more value, however. The Ravens got Howard at nearly half the cost of Wagner, as the former is averaging $5.3 million per season (the NFL Network is reporting a three-year, $16 million deal)."
Howard likely marks the Ravens' final significant move before the season, unless they find a way to clear more money under the cap.
Joe Flacco Returning to Practice This Week?
After the Ravens' open stadium practice in Annapolis Saturday, Head Coach John Harbaugh didn't give a definitive return date for Flacco.
He did say that Flacco is improving "every single day."
On Saturday morning, CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora reported there's a chance Flacco's workload could increase early this week.
As for another important piece to the offense, Yanda (shoulder surgery) returned to doing full-team drills over the weekend. It's a positive sign for who I will now call the "potential future Hall of Famer."
Gillmore Clears Waivers and Reverts to IR
The Ravens waived tight end Crockett Gillmore (knee) with the injury designation Friday in order to make room for Howard on the 90-man roster.
Unless another team claimed Gillmore, the fourth-year veteran was expected to revert to the Ravens' injured reserve list. Well, that's exactly what happened. It wouldn't have made much sense for another team to claim him when he'll become a free agent at the end of the year.
- "Either the Ravens defense is really dominant or their offense is really struggling. In one full-team drill, Ravens' QBs totaled three interceptions, hit an offensive lineman in the back of the helmet on a screen pass and then had a pass deflected downfield on a trick play," wrote Hensley. "It should be noted that Baltimore's offense was short-handed, playing without QB Joe Flacco (back), WR Breshad Perriman (hamstring), RG Marshal Yanda (offseason shoulder surgery) and LG Alex Lewis (undisclosed)." [ESPN]