When the Ravens offense took the field on Monday, the line had a couple of surprises.
Most notably was third-year lineman Ramon Harewood – who had primarily only played tackle – getting the start at left guard over 13-year veteran Bobbie Williams and essentially becoming the unexpected Week 1 replacement for departed Pro Bowler Ben Grubb.
Perhaps equally as surprising was seeing last year's starting left tackle, Bryant McKinnie, on the bench and Michael Oher starting in his place. With Oher on the left side, rookie Kelechi Osemele started at right tackle. As expected, Matt Birk started at center and Marshal Yanda was at right guard.
"We have a bunch of guys right now that we think we can play on our offensive line," Head Coach John Harbaugh said after the 44-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. "So it goes from a perceived weakness to what we always thought was going to be a strength and we just have to build on that."
The offensive line was of concern during training camp, but the group performed well and the overall offensive unit was the star of the Monday Night Football victory. Quarterback Joe Flacco was sacked three times, but he had time to throw for much of the night and the running backs had room to work with when they ran the ball.
"Those guys were making plays for us tonight," running back Ray Rice said about the line. "It was nice to see young guys go out and make plays."
The decision to start Harewood came after he caught the coaching staff's attention with an impressive training camp and preseason. He worked mostly at right and left tackle during training camp, but started the final preseason game at left guard and showed that he could handle playing on the interior of the line.
"We thought really highly of Ramon," Harbaugh said. "We just thought he looked like a player."
The move to guard was a good fit for the athletic, 6-foot-6, 334-pounder.
"I like guard because it just gives me the ability to maul people," Harewood said. "At tackle there's a lot more space to work with, a lot shiftier people, and at guard they play onto you a lot faster, so it's just man-o, man-o in there."
In addition to Monday being Harewood's first start, it was also his first action in an NFL game. The 2010 sixth-round pick has spent the last two years on injured reserve with knee and ankle injuries, and he said that spending that time watching from the sidelines prepared him for this opportunity.
"It's been a long ride," Harewood said. "The last few years have been so hard, so to be able to run out of that tunnel tonight was an amazing feeling."
The decision to start Osemele was more expected, as he started every game during the preseason and showed versatility at both tackle and guard. When the Ravens decided to go with Oher over McKinnie at left tackle, Osemele was the next in line at right tackle because the second-round pick out of Iowa State has proven to be one of the team's five best linemen.
"I felt really good," Osemele said. "I was nervous at first, but the older guys did a really good job of just [letting] me stay within myself and staying focused on my technique."
The line has been somewhat of a carousel throughout training camp, and Harbaugh said that the group will likely continue to evolve over the course of the season.
"We're not going to be the same team a week from now, four weeks from now, 16 weeks from now," Harbaugh said. "We just have to make sure we're getting better in every way."