There are still moving pieces along the Ravens offensive line, but Head Coach John Harbaugh shared his initial view of the 2018 starting unit:
Left tackle: Ronnie Stanley
Left guard: Alex Lewis
Center: Matt Skura
Right guard: Marshal Yanda
Right tackle: James Hurst
“Here’s kind of the interesting thing about the o-line: You compare it to last year and I think we’re in better shape than we were a year ago at this time,” Harbaugh said Tuesday morning from the NFL League Meetings. “We actually have more flexibility, more depth than we did a year ago and it turned out pretty well for us.”
Season-ending injuries to Lewis (shoulder) and Yanda (ankle) were gut punches last season, but the bright side was it forced Skura and Hurst, two former undrafted players, into the starting lineup. Both excelled in run-guru Greg Roman’s system, helping the offense go from the 28th-ranked rushing unit in the league in 2016 to No. 11 in 2017.
The Ravens now know they have two proven starters that they weren’t sure about last year at this time. They’ll also get a huge boost with Yanda, a six-time Pro Bowler, returning. Plus, Lewis will be back and he was impressive during his rookie season in 2016.
Harbaugh was asked if Lewis is under consideration for the starting center job, and the Ravens coach said that’s certainly a possibility, but for now, he likes the idea of Skura at center. Skura is showing his flexibility after starting 12 games at right guard last year.
“I think Matt will be the lead dog there as far as center; he’ll get the first shot at it,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll start Alex off at left guard. We like Alex at left guard because what we do with our offense requires the guards to move and be really athletic and pull and things like that.
“We run a lot of different schemes. Gap schemes, pull schemes, lead schemes and different schemes where the guards have to get out and do a lot of athletic things. Alex Lewis can run. He’s fast for an offensive lineman.”
Last year’s starting right tackle, Austin Howard, could’ve returned, but the Ravens chose not to exercise his 2018 contract option. He was scheduled to cost a reported $5 million against the cap.
Instead, the team opted to re-sign Hurst to a four-year deal that will only count $2.25 million against the cap this year. So, the Ravens save nearly $3 million in the moves. Hurst started all 16 games at left guard last year, but he’s also started and left tackle and Harbaugh is confident he can kick out to right tackle.
“He was really doing well [at right tackle] in training camp last year,” Harbaugh said. “Actually, Terrell Suggs said, ‘Hey man, this is the next Rick Wagner, he’s going to set the record [contract] this year.’ That’s how he felt about [Hurst] going against him in training camp. … That shows you how versatile he is.”
Harbaugh reiterated that things could change. The offensive line is a fluid situation.
But overall, he’s happy that he has plenty of flexibility, and wherever all the linemen wind up, he knows he has five very capable starters.
“I thought [Offensive Line Coach Joe D’Alessandris] did a really good job with those guys, obviously,” Harbaugh said. “[Offensive Coordinator] Marty [Mornhinweg], Greg Roman, all of our coaches did a great job and it showed up in the fact that these guys are signing big contracts around the league. But we’ve got some prospects here.
“I love the way the offensive line is set up right now.”