Alex Lewis has a stock answer whenever he’s asked about the position he wants play.
“Offensive line,” he always says with a smile.
That attitude is particularly true this year, as Lewis’ versatility is giving the Ravens options in the trenches. Lewis has taken reps at left guard, left tackle and right tackle during his time in Baltimore, and now the Ravens are giving the third-year lineman a look at center.
“I think this is the time to kind of experiment,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said Thursday after Organized Team Activities (OTAs).
The Ravens have used different looks along the line the last two weeks, and here’s the breakdown:
Left tackle: Ronnie Stanley
Left guard: Alex Lewis
Center: Matt Skura
Right guard: Jermaine Eluemunor
Right tackle: James Hurst
*Left tackle: Ronnie Stanley
Left guard: James Hurst
Center: Alex Lewis
Right guard: Matt Skura
Right tackle: Orlando Brown
“It is going to evolve,” Harbaugh said. “You’re going to need your guards to play backup center anyway, so we need to get Alex that work anyway. But if it evolves into something bigger than that, then that’s great.”
The line is still far from a finished product because the group’s best player, Pro Bowler Marshal Yanda, has yet to return from last year’s broken ankle. When the veteran gets back on the field, he’ll return to his starting right guard spot.
Yanda’s absence has allowed Eluemunor and Skura to get more practice reps with the first-time offense as the coaches determine the best-overall lineup. Skura showed last year when stepping in for Yanda that he’s a viable starter, and he’s now competing for the starting center job.
The flexibility from Hurst and Lewis is really the catalyst that gives the Ravens options with the lineup. Hurst proved last year he could play well as a left guard, which led to the Ravens re-signing him to a four-year deal. He was slated to play right tackle last year before the Ravens added veteran Austin Howard late in training camp.
Lewis missed last season with a shoulder injury, but he was one of the team’s best linemen two years ago and his size makes him an ideal blocker in Baltimore’s downhill running scheme. The Ravens like a big center, and the 6-foot-6, 315-pound Lewis certainly fits the bill in that department.
“Alex is a big man,” Harbaugh said. “We typically would like to see our centers be bigger guys, especially in terms of the run game that we have.”
Deciding on the best offensive line depends largely on how quickly third-round pick Orlando Brown adjusts to the NFL level. The 6-foot-8, 345-pounder is NFL-ready in terms of his size, but he’s working to adjust to the right side after playing left tackle throughout college.
“He’s been working his butt off, trying to learn new techniques and he’s playing a whole new position at right tackle,” Stanley said. “He’s working hard. I couldn’t ask him to do any more.”
Brown was an All-American in college, and if he shows he’s ready to start during training camp, that would likely push Lewis to center and Hurst to left guard.
The Ravens have plenty of time to determine how they want to structure the line, but the good news is that they have competition and depth throughout the group.
“You just kind of see how it goes and see what your best combinations are,” Harbaugh said.