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Mailbag: Who Has Inside Track at Left Guard Heading Into Training Camp?

G John Simpson

Brown: Head Coach John Harbaugh said he expects "quite a battle" for the starting job at left guard and hasn't indicated who has the inside track. In my opinion, John Simpson and Ben Cleveland are the frontrunners and I'd give a slight edge to Simpson heading into training camp. Simpson started every game for the Raiders in 2021 when they made the playoffs. He's still only 25 years old, just one year older than Cleveland. The other candidates are Patrick Mekari, Daniel Faalele and rookie Sala Aumavae-Laulu. Mekari is so valuable as a backup who can play all five offensive line positions that I don't think they'll start him at left guard. Faalele has gotten a long look at guard during OTAs, but he has far more experience playing tackle. Aumavae-Laulu has intriguing potential, but it'd be asking a lot to start him as a rookie. This the only starting job up for grabs on the offensive line, and it may not be decided until late in the preseason.

Downing: I expect Lamar Jackson to have a career high in passing yards this season. He floated out the idea of topping 6,000 passing yards earlier this offseason, which would be an NFL record by a wide margin. I like Jackson's optimism, but I think that goal is lofty for anyone. My expectation is for Jackson to throw for around 4,000 passing yards this season, which would top his previous high of 3,127 yards set in 2019. The Ravens will throw the ball more this season with new Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken at the helm, and a talented receiving corps of Odell Beckham Jr., Rashod Bateman, Zay Flowers, Nelson Agholor and of course tight end Mark Andrews. Jackson wants to get all his talented targets involved in the action, and this is a competitive group that wants the football. This is the most talented receiving corps of Jackson's career, and I expect him to set career highs in the passing department with this new offense.

Brown: The true difficulty of an NFL schedule often depends on how healthy the opponent is when you face them. However, I'll give you three Ravens road games that I think will be difficult and critical – Week 2 at Cincinnati, Week 12 at the Chargers and Week 16 at the 49ers. The Ravens have lost three straight in Cincinnati including last year's playoff game. Beating the Bengals in Week 2 would give Baltimore an early jump in the AFC North race. The Chargers are a playoff contender in the AFC led by star quarterback Justin Herbert. A win in Los Angeles could give Baltimore a critical tiebreaker edge in playoff seeding. The Christmas night game in San Francisco is a marquee matchup against an NFC powerhouse, a difficult assignment for the Ravens who'll be spending the holiday a long way from home. However, if the Ravens manage to win that game, it could be a huge lift in their push toward the playoffs.

Downing: This is a fun question. There are a number of different ways to take it  because just about any NFL player could probably justify to themselves that they're underrated to some degree. A player who sticks out to me is right guard Kevin Zeitler. He is a pro's pro. He is a leader of this offensive line and is highly respected in the Ravens locker room. He's a reliable player who performs at a high level every week, and he's one of the better guards in the game. But for some reason, the veteran lineman is still searching for his first Pro Bowl invitation. He was more than deserving of an invite last year, but got snubbed in the voting process. The 12-year pro is too often overlooked in the conversation of top guards in the game, but that's a recognition he deserves, and hopefully this year he gets his first Pro Bowl invite.

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