A decision on the Ravens' new starting right guard needs to be made and the process will move quickly.
The candidates for the job – D.J. Fluker, Ben Powers, Patrick Mekari and rookies Tyre Phillips and Ben Bredeson – face an important training camp as the Ravens look for the successor to Marshal Yanda, a eight-time Pro Bowler and future Hall of Fame candidate who retired.
The Ravens aren't asking any of the guards to be as great as Yanda. That wouldn't be fair. However, the coaching staff is looking for someone to stand out and win the job, without the benefit of any preseason games before the season-opener against the Cleveland Browns.
Even before the Ravens begin padded practices, the early stages of camp could indicate which right guard is ready to win the job.
"You look at that part of it, the mental part, especially with the young guys and the new guys," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "Even a guy like D.J. as experienced as he is coming in, it's a new offense for him. He's been with (Offensive Line) Coach (Joe) D'Allesandris before so he should have an idea of the techniques, which is a plus. You look for everything you can find and I think the mental aspect of it's very important.
"But really the decisions will get made once we put the pads on and we start competing along those lines and you can see how well it transfers to just executing and play-by-play situations. Having the games would help us make that evaluation. But we can make the evaluation based on what we have and that's what we'll have to do. I'm looking forward to seeing those guys in action."
Many of the Ravens' offensive linemen can play more than one position. Phillips was a tackle in college but can play guard. Mekari was a guard and tackle in college, but took over as the starting center after Matt Skura suffered his season-ending knee injury last year. Bredeson was a left guard who has the flexibility to play all three interior spots. Bradley Bozeman won the starting left guard job in training camp last season, but can also play center.
The coaches will work the interior linemen at several spots, looking for the best five-man combination to start Week 1 and giving players a shot to win the right guard job.
"We've got to do a really good job of sorting that out," Harbaugh said. "We're going to play those guys all around. Our guards are going to be playing tackle some. You'll see Tyre Phillips playing some tackle even though he'll still be competing for the starting right guard and backup left guard spot. We're going to have to really be flexible. To be good, we're going to have to do a great job of how we organize our practices – make sure it's fair by everybody."
Health Updates on Skura, Young, McPhee and Elliott
Harbaugh is encouraged with how Skura, cornerback Tavon Young (neck), outside linebacker Pernell McPhee (triceps) and safety DeShon Elliott (knee) have recovered from injuries.
Skura hopes to reclaim his starting center spot and has worked hard in rehab to strengthen his knee. He passed the conditioning test this offseason and has said he expects to be ready to go by the start of camp. Harbaugh hasn't yet seen him, however, because Skura's wife is having a baby this week.
"I'm optimistic about Matt, I really am. That's a big plus for us," Harbaugh said. "We'll be careful and we'll see how he looks and feels. I know he's worked really, really hard to be ready."
Young is another big-time player to get back on the field, as he's one of the best slot corners in the NFL when healthy. The Ravens signed him to a contract extension last offseason envisioning him as a key member of an already loaded secondary.
"Tavon looks great, he's doing the walkthroughs, he's been conditioning," Harbaugh said. "Tavon's really excited to be back on the field. He told me that yesterday."
McPhee had three sacks and physical run defense in seven starts to begin last season. Elliott is a talented player whose NFL career has been setback by injuries. He missed his rookie season in 2018 with a fractured forearm, and he was placed on injured reserve last October.
"Pernell's great, he looks super-good. He looks fantastic," Harbaugh said. "DeShon's here, he's working hard, and looks 100 percent."
Harbaugh Shares His Thoughts on Antonio Brown
Lamar Jackson would like the Ravens to sign Antonio Brown, and it's understandable why a quarterback would love throwing to a wide receiver with Brown's ability. However, Brown is still under investigation by the NFL for off-the-field issues of sexual assault and misconduct, so it remains to be seen whether, and for how long, he would be suspended. He has not played since Week 2 of last season.
Jackson worked out in April with Brown and his cousin, Ravens wide receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown. That session in Florida made Jackson even more bullish on Brown, but his NFL future remains unclear, although Harbaugh appreciates Jackson's feedback on Brown.
"I respect him for feeling that way, I respect his opinion on it," Harbaugh said. "Definitely appreciate hearing how that workout went whenever it was. It was a long time ago now. We'll look at any and every player at all times. Antonio Brown's no exception. Decisions will be made. I don't think he's even available to be really signed right now, so it's not really a conversation you have until he's available to sign. That's something I'll have to ask (General Manager) Eric (DeCosta) about, where that stands with the league and the player. But that's where we stand on that, at least from my perspective."
Jimmy Smith Will Remain Primarily a Cornerback
The Ravens have the NFL's deepest cornerback rotation led by Pro Bowlers Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, veteran Jimmy Smith and Young. Smith could see reps at safety this season, but Harbaugh said Smith would remain primarily a cornerback, although a very versatile one.
"He can play outside, he's learning to play inside, the nickel," Harbaugh said. "It becomes more of a situational matchup. It kind of blends into what we do defensively. I don't know if any team has more defensive packages than we do. It's really not complicated for us the way our defense is organized. Jimmy, if he lines up at safety, it will be for a reason to do a certain specific task, or number of tasks.
"Any kind of big picture transition, saying Jimmy Smith is a safety, that's not really where we're going this year. He's a corner and he'll play corner. But he could be out there as the first corner, second corner, third corner, fourth corner. We'll put different groups out there. It just depends on the job we're asking him to do within the call and the situation."