While none of the current coaches were here when the current offensive line was drafted, they have been able to determine which player will help the team the most and at which position. Together, the starters (and key reserve Willie Anderson) have turned what was a glaring weakness of this team into a non-issue and even a strength after two games so far.
Head Coach John Harbaugh has started off with great success by doing what any successful leader in any business has done. That is to surround himself with great people, those who are better than him in their respective specialties, with him being the best "generalist" of the group. Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron has joined this team with the gameplan philosophy of determining who to play and what to do based on the players' abilities as well as the opponents' tendencies. Unfortunately, this did not seem to be the philosophy of the previous Ravens' regieme. They always seemed to have the same gameplan regardless of the opponent's strengths or weaknesses and without regard for our own players abilities or inabilities. Perhaps that is why the offense seemed so vanilla and a regular fan like me could always seem to call out the plays from the stands before they were ran. If I knew what was coming, what do you think the defense knew!? Luckily, that has not been the situation under the current crop of coaches.
Joining Harbaugh and Cameron in the success of the o-line has to be Offensive Line Coach John Matsko and Assistant Offensive Line Coach Andy Moeller. Both Matsko and Moeller has worked with these guys all summer to get them comfortable at where they would be lining up and blending the chemistry necessary to have them work together. While much of the credit should go to these guys, you have to really be impressed with the individual players who do the dirty work in the trenches on the playing field.
To me, it all starts with the old man of the group, 25 year old center Jason Brown. Brown moved over from left guard, where he originally replaced an injured Edwin Mulitalo and did a great job next to the All Pro Jonathan Ogden. When veteran Mike Flynn was released, Brown was put into the center positon because of his larger size and nastier disposition. While Flynn always seemed to be pushed well into the backfield each play, Brown has been a pillar of strength on the line so far, manhandling some of the better nose tackles, including the huge Shaun Rogers of Cleveland last week.
To either side of Brown, he looks to his left and sees 2nd year left guard Ben Grubbs. Grubbs started at right guard as a rookie and did a great job, although his natural position was on the left side. Now he's a fixture there and should receive Pro Bowl consideration as he has done a great job snce he came to the Ravens out of Auburn in the 2007 draft. To Brown's right is other guard Marshall Yanda. Yanda was a middle round draft pick from 2007 who was forced into the starting right tackle position due to injuries last year. While Yanda did a decent job, he was playing out of position and now is firmly seated at his natural spot.
Going into the 2008 season, the retirement of the All-World Ogden left two gaping holes in the most important pass blocking positions on the line. Both tackles had either retired or been injured all last season and no one knew who would be there when the season began. On top of that, when it seemed to become clear who the better choices to start were, injuries limited playing time and the critical opportunity to develop the chemistry the o-line needs to be successful. For the first game of the season, the players got together on the field for what seemed to be the first real extended playing time tegether as a unit of their careers. The Ravens started 2nd year player and one of the youngest in the entire league in Jared Gaither, from the University of Maryland, picked in the 5th round of last year's Supplemental Draft. He was thought to be a project but ended up with extended playing time due to Ogden's injury last season and did a decent job considering his age and lack of experience. He has a huge advantage in that he is a behemoth in the mold of JO, standing 6'9" and tipping the scales at over 330 pounds. He will be responsible for protecting rookie QB Joe Flacco's blind side and while we shouldn't expect All Pro results just et, he has proven so far to be a pleasant surprise. Over on the right side is Adam Terry, who has played all over the o-line and probably has the most playing experience of the group, although he has been susceptible to nagging injuries.
You also can't forget the veteran All Pro Willie Anderson who was signed just before the season began after being released by Cincinnati. Anderson was originally thought to be brought in to start as soon as possible, but has been relegated to a reserve due to the current players' success as a group. At the same time, he has been humble and willing to accept his role, like the veteran pro he is. He would play the right tackle position in the event of an injury to Terry, while Adam would also switch over to left tackle should an injury to Gaither occur. Either way, our first line of replacement to the tackles gives us the luxury of depth that we never previously enjoyed. Should an injury to the guards occur, we are not as deep, although Chris Chester is still learning and Brown could always move back to that position in an emergency.
Together, this group has been the basis of our early season success. While not big on star power, these guys always determine the success of a team. Look what the o-line in New England did for Tom Brady and the same in Indianapolis for Peyton Manning. So far this season, we've seen what the loss of the Colts' All Pro center Jeff Staurday has meant to Manning and the Colts, as they have started off 1-2, with both losses at home and should have lost their only road game as Minnesota as well. As the season progresses, the chemistry and bond between this young group will only continue to mesh and they should become a strong point on this offense for a long time. This will only add to the early success of a young quarterback, as they could easily be the main reason he has the time to find his open receivers with the confidence that all five guys have his back at all times.