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Ravens Offensive Line Is Set, Looking to Prove It Can Get the Job Done


One of the longest-running questions this offseason has been about the identity of the Ravens' starting five offensive linemen.

Finally, heading into Baltimore's regular-season opener in Cincinnati – after injuries and trades – it has come into focus.

Ronnie Stanley is back at left tackle. James Hurst will be the starting left guard. Ryan Jensen is at center. Pro Bowler Marshal Yanda will anchor the right guard spot. Austin Howard will be the right tackle.

The Ravens have three new starters and there are still questions about how they'll perform given their limited time together as a unit, but the group is eager to prove itself.

"I think we have a chance to be a great offensive line," Jensen said Thursday. "We're going to go up to Cincinnati and go against a great front seven and be able to prove how good an offensive line we can be."

The Bengals have a very talented defensive line featuring five-time Pro Bowler Geno Atkins and veteran defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson. Linebackers Kevin Minter and Vincent Rey sit behind them, though Vontaze Burfict is suspended for Sunday's game.

They'll meet a couple new starters when the Ravens arrive at Paul Brown Stadium.

A sixth-round pick out of Colorado State University-Pueblo in 2013, Jensen has started nine games during his four seasons (three in 2016 and six in 2015 both at center and guard).

The 6-foot-4, 319-pound blocker gives the Ravens more size in the middle and brings a definite nasty streak to the job. With that said, Baltimore has added reinforcements, and it remains to be seen how it all shakes out as the season continues.

The Ravens traded for centers Tony Bergstrom and Luke Bowanko as they were molding their final 53-man roster. Bergstrom can also play guard, but Bowanko is seen as more of a pure center.

"That's what we work for, to become the guy," Jensen said. "I'm excited to be named the starter, but at the same time I have to stay level, be ready to go to work and keep doing what I'm doing. If you're not performing, they'll find somebody that will."

The biggest challenge for anyone on the offensive line may be that given to Hurst. While the 2014 undrafted prospect has started 16 regular-season games (two playoffs) in his three seasons, they've all been at tackle (mostly left).

Hurst started the summer at right tackle and played every snap with the first team until Howard was signed on Aug. 4. Alex Lewis' season-ending shoulder surgery opened a hole at left guard, and Hurst moved there for just a couple days until Stanley went down with an injury, requiring Hurst to fill in again at left tackle through much of the preseason.

Hurst had never played guard before, and he'll have about two weeks of full-time practice at the job before facing the Bengals.

"I feel like I'm in a good place," Hurst said. "Obviously, every day is a learning opportunity for me. I have to take advantage of each practice to get ready to play as well as I can."

Hurst said he's not sure whether the switch from left tackle to right tackle or from left tackle to left guard was more difficult. The tackle swap requires flipping every movement. From tackle to guard is a whole different beast, requiring more power than lateral quickness.

"This is a man that can play one of any four spots and do a really good job because he is natural," Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said.

"He is a natural football player. He is smart. He is a hard worker – all of those things. It has been seamless for him. He has been at right tackle, left tackle, left guard. He could play right guard at the drop of a hat. He is a valuable member of our squad."

Howard, who the Ravens signed after he was released by the Oakland Raiders, has now been practicing at right tackle since Aug. 12. He played in two of the Ravens' three preseason games, and is up to speed physically and mentally.

"Our coaches are helping us, making sure we take advantage of every single minute we meet and stay extra," Howard said. "With the reps we take at practice, they're going to make sure we're all on the same page. I feel good, I know our offensive line feels good, and we're ready to go."

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