Marshal Yanda was perhaps the NFL's best guard last year. Despite playing through a serious shoulder injury, Yanda didn't give up a single sack and was named to his second Pro Bowl.
Kelechi Osemele's ambition this year is to be better than Yanda – and it may not be a pie-in-the-sky goal.
Pair Yanda and Osemele together, and the Ravens may just have the best guard tandem in the NFL entering the 2013 season.
"It's going to be one of the better ones," Run Game Coordinator Juan Castillo said Tuesday. "That's the way they are working, and that's the way it's going to be."
Osemele had even less reservation making the claim.
"No question," he said. "Without a doubt, I would say me and Marshal are probably the best guard tandem in the league right now."
The top contenders all reside in the NFC. In New Orleans, there's four-time Pro Bowler Jahri Evans and former Raven Ben Grubbs. In Tampa Bay, there's Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph. In San Francisco resides Pro Bowler Mike Iupati and Alex Boone.
Yanda will hold up his end of the bargain. He's coming off shoulder surgery and expected to be at full strength once the season begins, and at 28 years old, Yanda is entering the prime of his career.
The reason the Ravens don't have the name recognition yet is because of Osemele, a 2012 second-round pick who spent most of his time at tackle last year. Usually it takes a few years for offensive linemen to draw attention.
That could change soon. Osemele was named as the Ravens' 2013 breakout player by ESPN.com's Matt Williamson. Williamson said Osemele is "just scratching the surface and will become a Pro Bowl-caliber player and one of the elite guards in the game."
Osemele feels the same way, and has high standards for himself.
"My goal is to outplay Marshal this year," the 2012 second-round pick said. "I'm going to make sure my level of play is higher than his."
Osemele feels supremely confident despite playing just four NFL games at guard. He started all 16 regular-season games at right tackle last year before moving to guard in the playoffs when Bryant McKinnie was inserted at left tackle. That helped propel the Ravens during their Super Bowl run.
Nobody may have been happier than Osemele when the Ravens re-signed McKinnie this offseason. It meant he got to stay at guard instead of tackle.
"I knew guard was my natural position and I knew I could excel there," Osemele said. "As soon as I got moved there, I said in my mind that I'm going to be the best in the league."
This past offseason, Osemele went to LeCharles Bentley's O-Line Performance training center to fine tune his body. Bentley, a former Pro Bowl guard and center in New Orleans, put Osemele through workouts pushing 800-pound sleds in 115-degree heat.
Osemele came out looking more like a linebacker than an offensive lineman, sporting a rare six-pack for a 330-pound offensive lineman.
"I'm excited to see what I do this year," he said. "I just feel like I'm more athletic, have more natural ability, am stronger, have longer arms and play nastier than other guys."
Nicknamed "K.O" for more reasons other than just his initials, Osemele has looked very strong in training camp. He and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata battle. Most of the time, Osemele is careful so he doesn't injure Ngata, but he looks forward to the days when Ngata tells him to go full tilt.
Last week, Osemele got into three separate fights on the same day with Ngata and linebackers Albert McClellan and Josh Bynes. Head Coach John Harbaugh quipped that he was disappointed Osemele didn't fight more defenders.
"Any time I want to turn it on, I turn it on," Osemele said. "I'm pretty much having my way whenever I want."