Before the draft, the Ravens said they like big centers and are often looking to convert an offensive tackle or guard to center. Then they drafted Tyler Linderbaum, an undersized college center.
The talent, toughness and mobility that outweigh Linderbaum's measurables have been well documented as reasons why the Ravens picked him 25th overall. But there are two more reasons why Baltimore is hopeful that he will be an instant impact player.
Head Coach John Harbaugh knows the mental part of the game will be essential for Linderbaum and how quickly he can step into the starting job.
"Two things about that: I think he's in a good spot, because he played center his whole career. So, he's done all that," Harbaugh said. "And [Iowa head coach] Kirk Ferentz is an O-line coach, and he always has great O-line coaches at Iowa. So, he's well-schooled that way, just like all the Iowa offensive linemen."
Linderbaum was actually recruited as a defensive tackle coming out of high school and started there at Iowa. After redshirting as a freshman, Linderbaum started taking snaps at center (where he also played in high school), during practices for the Hawkeyes' appearance in the Outback Bowl in 2018.
Impressed by his athleticism and understanding of leverage, perhaps in part due to his wrestling background, Ferentz named Linderbaum the starting center as a redshirt freshman entering the 2019 season. He went on to start every game he played in the next three seasons.
The other factor that helps Linderbaum is he was coached by one of the finest offensive line coaches in college football. Ferentz was the Ravens' first offensive line coach in 1996 and spent three years with the team before going to Iowa. His program has a long track record of producing quality NFL lineman, including three other current centers in James Daniels (Steelers), Austin Blythe (Seahawks) and James Ferentz (Patriots), as well as two current All-Pros in tackle Tristan Wirfs (Buccaneers) and guard Brandon Scherff (Jaguars).
Step onto the field with the Ravens' 2022 rookie class, including first-round picks Kyle Hamilton and Tyler Linderbaum.
In the lead up to the draft, Ferentz said a couple teams called him saying how impressed they were with Linderbaum during interviews. One person said Linderbaum could probably coach their NFL offensive line right now as a rookie.
"It was that detailed and that thorough," Ferentz said. "The one nice thing any coach appreciates is just knowing what you're going to get, really knowing. I think that's the best thing I can say about Tyler. Whatever they think they're getting, that's what they're getting, probably plus some."
With that said, there still is a learning curve when it comes to the Ravens' scheme, calls, and more. Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman has a ton of variation in Baltimore's running game, in particular, and the center is in the middle running the show. Linderbaum thought rookie camp went well, but knows there's a long way to go.
"Obviously, at the end of the day, football is football. You're running similar stuff," he said. "But it's just a lot different verbiage. I think that's something that I'm trying to get down right now, just understanding the verbiage and communication. I've thought it's been good, but also, it's … We're only running 10% of the plays that we run during the season. So, there's still a lot more I need to learn."
Linderbaum said the Ravens are in shotgun formation more than he was at Iowa, so that will be another change to handle. But Harbaugh said how fast Linderbaum progresses with the mental part of the game will probably be the main factor in whether he starts out the gate.
Linderbaum will have a great mentor in veteran Patrick Mekari, who former Ravens center Bradley Bozeman called a "computer chip" because he "kind of knows everything." Bozeman said Mekari had his back to help get things fixed on the field.
"It's a challenge, because now it's pro football, and he has a lot to learn," Harbaugh said of Linderbaum. "We have other guys, too. Pat Mekari … I talked to Pat about his role, so Pat is going to have a big role with us. How it shakes out, time will tell."