Who Replaces a Legend? Marshal Yanda Has Faith in Ravens' Young Linemen

G Ben Powers

The thought of "replacing" Marshal Yanda is so laughable that General Manager Eric DeCosta couldn't help but crack a joke when asked how he planned to do it.

"I think we're open for suggestions if you all have any suggestions," DeCosta told reporters.

The celebration of Yanda's career was beautiful Tuesday and Wednesday, but now it's Thursday and the Ravens are left with a gaping hole at right guard.

Baltimore knew this decision was most likely coming, so it's not like the front office is in panic mode trying to figure out what to do. But that doesn't make the job any easier.

Any search for a new starter begins with looking at the internal options. The Ravens don't have a lot of possibilities on that front.

Rising second-year player Ben Powers would be the most logical choice. He stepped in for Yanda in the regular-season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers when Baltimore rested some of its starters. Powers had the highest grade of any Ravens player in that game, per Pro Football Focus.

"I think he really grew from coming in as a rookie. It's tough transitioning from college to the NFL -- physically and mentally, the game slowed down for him," center Matt Skura said. "The Steelers game was really big for him getting those meaningful reps. I think he's ready to take his game to the next level and improve on the things he wants to."

A fourth-round pick out Oklahoma last year, Powers is 6-foot-4, 310 pounds. Like Yanda, he doesn't have off-the-charts athletic mobility, but he's strong, physical and plays with a punishing demeanor. Powers once said he relishes "taking a grown man's dreams and crushing them."

Of course, like Yanda said Wednesday, saying it is one thing and doing it is another.

"On the field and on the grass when the time counts, it's when you actually truly see if a guy is actually made up of what he says," Yanda said. "And like I said, I've met a lot of guys where they say these things, and I find out in the heat of the battle they're not what they say."

Powers will go about trying to prove himself in his second year, and there's no reason to believe he can't. He won't be alone either. Perhaps more than any other position, an offensive line gains its strength through unity and cooperation. Just as Yanda helped those around him, it will now be on the Ravens' other talented linemen to lead the way moving forward. As of now, before possibly free-agency additions, it projects to be a very young starting unit.

Pro Bowl offensive tackles Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. are 25 and 23, respectively. Left guard Bradley Bozeman is 25 and Powers is 23. Centers Skura and Patrick Mekhari are 27 and 22.

That's an average of 24 years old and none of them have more than four years of NFL experience. However, they have a lot of talent. Stanley and Brown were both named to the Pro Bowl last year and a pair of bookend tackles like that is a great place to start.

"Replacing Marshal is going to be tough. In 2017, I had to go and fill in for Marshal. The right guard spot is Marshal's spot," Skura said. "It's definitely going to be tough, but I think we have the right guys for the job and I know we have a lot of people ready to step up."

Yanda has been their role model ever since each of them came into the league, and he expressed faith in his young apprentices to carry on without him.

"We've got a really good group of guys. We have a young group of guys that work extremely hard," Yanda said. "We had a lot of success last year as a unit, and that's a credit to those guys approaching their job and approaching their life the right way. Those guys put football first and it needs to be first.

"It's a grind every single day being an O-lineman. There's not a lot of glam, there's not a lot of glory. But that's OK. If you have a good group in that room and those guys play for one another, good things happen. That's what's going on in that room. I know that that room will be in a good place, and it's because of the men and the coaches in that room."

After the retirement of Marshal Yanda, perhaps the Ravens will take a closer look at some of these free agent guards.

The Ravens could also look for outside veteran help to step into the offensive line. This week, pundits pointed to the Las Vegas Raiders' Gabe Jackson or former Ravens guard Kelechi Osemele as potential fits.

The top free agent guards are New England's Joe Thuney, Washington's Brad Scherff and Detroit's Graham Glasgow, but they'll come at a steep price.

Buffalo's Quinton Spain, Indianapolis' Joe Haeg, Dallas' Connor McGovern and the Los Angeles Rams' Austin Blythe all have starting experience and would be cheaper. Baltimore could also try to swing a trade for somebody not on this list.

"You can't replace a guy like Marshal. As great a player as he is, he's a better person and a leader by example day-to day, and the other guys see that," DeCosta said. "You can't replace that overnight. You hope you hit on some guys at some point who could become that guy, but that's like a once-every-10-years type of guy."

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