Wanted: Solid, sturdy, and healthy offensive linemen between the ages of 21 (or draft eligible) and 30, preferably with experience at playing on the interior positions of the line. Must have the experience and aptitude to play at both the left guard and center positions. Rookies and veterans alike encouraged to apply for the current open position at left guard as well as open roster spots to add depth at the center position. Salary negotiable. So, come join the Baltimore Ravens! Play for a winning franchise that’s always in the hunt!
All joking aside, the Ravens’ offensive line seems to be the most out-of-focus piece of the whole roster puzzle as we look ahead to the upcoming season. With the departure of Ben Grubbs, the Ravens will now face the tough task of filling in the gaps to the best of their abilities through either drafting replacements or promoting from within.
The Ravens, so far, have chosen the latter option of promoting from within their own ranks. Jah Reid, the 2nd-year right tackle drafted in last year’s 3rd round, was recently deemed the team’s starting left guard. Though the promotion of Reid as the starting left guard isn’t set in stone, that hasn’t stopped head coach John Harbaugh from expressing his optimism on the potential Reid has shown:
"I would say right now, today, he is the left guard. (But) he has to earn that spot. He could play any position along the front line. He played every position last year in practice. He is definitely a possible answer at left guard."
(After the "Jump", see more on the Ravens’ offensive line and my take on Jah Reid becoming the starting left guard)
Since this is a site of opinions, I’m going to use this forum and this post as a vehicle to express my own thoughts forthright on the prospect of Reid taking over at left guard.
Unfortunately, I don’t share Harbaugh’s optimism. While I truly believe that Reid is the Ravens’ right tackle or even possibly left tackle of the future, starting what is essentially a rookie on the interior line seems worrisome, especially for a unit that struggled as a whole down the stretch last season in creating a "push" for Ray Rice to work behind.
Of course, I’m not on the practice field; I don’t see the snaps that Reid is taking, and I’m not and don’t claim to be an expert or talent evaluator. However, I do think that the Ravens, and even fans for that matter, should expect a sharp decline in the overall play of the offensive line with Reid replacing an All-Pro Grubbs.
My biggest concerns with Reid are mostly in the run blocking department. Standing at 6-7, Reid may have trouble gaining leverage against defensive linemen where getting your pads as low as possible and pushing defenders backwards is absolutely key. At his immense height, Reid may need to have extremely sound technique to compensate for his staggering size at a position which demands that you stay as low as possible to gain an advantage over the opponent.
Another point to be made is that the Ravens’ offense lives and dies by Ray Rice. It’s undeniable that Rice is the Ravens’ offensive key to success and that most of the roads that lead to wins go through Rice. While Rice has shown the ability to make something out of nothing, that won’t always be the case and it all starts up front with the line. With the interior offensive line absolutely crucial to creating an initial "push" for Rice to do his handy work, the Ravens simply can’t afford a drop off in production from the line with Rice as the Ravens’ primary weapon.
One could also argue that the real crux to the Ravens’ offense, other than Rice, is the offensive line. The particular system that the Ravens deploy on Sundays absolutely requires solid protection for quarterback Joe Flacco to find his receivers. With most of the routes that his targets run taking several seconds, it’s key that the line can provide ample time for Flacco to find his receivers. Since the Ravens don’t use much in the way of short, underneath quick throws in an effort to neutralize an opponent’s pass-rush, the offensive line has to compensate and is forced to hold up the protection for precious extra seconds that could become 3-and-outs, or worse.
Simply put, the offensive system that the Ravens run is delicate. It requires each piece to work just right in order for it to maximize it’s full potential, and so far as I can tell, it all starts with the offensive line. As the Ravens’ biggest question mark, I’m not sold on the idea of a 2nd-year tackle filling in for Grubbs without at least a somewhat noticeable decline in the line’s overall performance.
The Ravens still have plenty of time to address their needs along the line, and surely they’ll add a few pieces to the puzzle a month from now in the 2012 NFL Draft. As evidenced by Harbaugh’s own words, Reid is currently the starting left guard, but he’ll have to work to earn and keep that spot over the coming months:
"We’ll continue to be looking for players. Our goal will be to put the best five offensive linemen on the field. Jah, I’d like to see him be one of those guys, but it’s going to be up to him to earn that spot."
It’s certainly not time to panic, Baltimore fans. The Ravens will execute their off-season plan and come out on the other side ready to compete like always, whether Reid is a starting guard or not. I have the utmost faith in the front office to put together the best 53-man roster they can, and if the team and Reid prove me wrong in that he’s the future at left guard, I’ll be more than happy to have a big ol’ slice of humble-pie.