Last season Ravens right guard Marshal Yanda proved to be one of the toughest and best overall guards in the NFL. He anchored an offensive line that badly needed some consistency. The Ravens got that consistency from the fifth year pro out of Iowa.
Yanda was selected in the third round of the 2007 draft, 86th over all, by the Ravens. (Two rounds later than their other Pro Bowl guard that we will get to in a bit.) Since then he has played in 65 games while starting 54 of them. In that time Yanda has not only become a great guard but he may be the anchor that holds this Baltimore line together. Last season the Ravens did not fare well when Yanda's counterpart at left guard Ben Grubbs went down with an injury. Marshal however, continued his high level of play on his side of the line, although the line as a whole performed poorly. Without the strong play of Yanda things would have been a lot worse for the Ravens over that stretch.
It seems the league has taken notice to Marshals dominant play as well as he was selected to his first Pro Bowl in 2011 and was also labeled an All Pro by his piers. The Ravens however knew the kind of player they had in Yanda before the season began. They signed the young up-and- comer to a five year 32 million dollar contract in July of 2011 ensuring stability at the right guard position for years to come. You would have to think that the team knew that they would only be able to keep one of their two guards, Yanda or Grubbs. Although many NFL "experts" around the league had labeled Grubbs as the teams best lineman, it seems the team felt otherwise and chose to keep the roughshod Yanda instead.
Well, as expected, the team was not able to secure both guards in 2012 and now the Ravens will be forced to play without Grubbs again this season. He signed a five year contract with the New Orleans Saints worth a reported 36 million dollars. The Ravens were said to have tried hard to keep him but they just couldn't match the Saints' offer. Which is hard to understand when you look at the other big contracts the Saints have on their roster.
So it will be up to Yanda again to be the dominant inside force on the Ravens offensive line. He is known for his intense physical play and for having a bit of a mean streak. Much like the man lined up to his right, right tackle Michael Oher. Oher seems to be growing into his role and perhaps the two of them can form a very solid right side of the line that can keep the teams worries elsewhere for years to come.
On the other side of the line there are a whole slew of question marks. First you have the ever changing weight of Pro Bowl tackle Bryant McKinnie. The latest news is that he is steadily dropping weight and looks to be on schedule for training camp but that could easily change in a week or two. Then there is the biggest question of all. Who will start at Ben Grubbs' old position of left guard. Right now it looks like former Cincinnati Bengal stand out Bobby Williams has the position firmly in his grasp. He is coming off of a serious injury though and may not be performing at his best. Hence why the Bengals parted ways with him. Williams can be very, very dominant if healthy and could actually be an upgrade to Grubbs if he still has anything left in the tank.
Before the Ravens signed Williams the favorite for the open spot was rookie and second round pick G/T Kelechi Osemele. Osemele was considered a draft day steal and was said to have really turned some heads in OTA's. However he is now injured as well and can not be counted on to start day one until he is healthy and has had some time on the field with the rest of the line.
Before the Ravens drafted Osemele and signed Williams it was thought that second year tackle Jah Reid would be making the switch from tackle to guard to fill in for the departed Grubbs. Reid does not have the build of a guard, standing at 6'7" and 324 lbs, he is much better suited as a tackle So it's no secret that the Ravens gave up on that idea pretty quickly, drafting two players capable of playing guard in Osemele and Gino Gradkowski out of Delaware.
So, as the left side of the line continues to figure it's self out, Yanda will be the player to watch in 2012. He and Michael Oher can work together to build on the chemistry they have started over the past season on the right side. The Ravens are lucky to have him and don't be surprised if many of the running plays go to the right side early on in the season while things on the left come into focus.