The Baltimore Ravens, a team that trotted out one of the weakest offensive lines in 2013, expects to have a revamped unit across the board for this upcoming season. With the veteran addition of Jeremy Zuttah, and the return of left guard Kelechi Osemele, a formidable group has been built for new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.
But the one potential weakness on the offensive line is right tackle Ricky Wagner, a young lineman that the Ravens appear committed to him moving forward. With the departure of Michael Oher in free agency, general manager Ozzie Newsome did not address the offensive line, which came as a surprise considering last season's woes.
The Ravens offensive line left much to be desired in pass protection, having quarterback Joe Flacco get sacked 48 times, second worst in the league. Typically a mauling offensive line, the Ravens' offensive line also failed miserably at blocking for both running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, allowing them to get 3.1 yards per carry and 2.9 yards per carry respectively. The entire running attack suffered, putting the Ravens in dead last in yard per carry average in the entire National Football League.
This leaves Wagner, who had limited playing time last season, to enter training camp as the clear-cut starter. And while it may pan off in the long run, the Ravens are taking a risk if they don't discover a backup plan for a potential weak-link on the offensive line.
That is why the Ravens should call free agent Eric Winston, a quality right tackle and a positive locker room guy, to come in and ultimately challenge Wagner for the final spot on the offensive line. Granted, it is a surprise that Winston remains unsigned to this point, and maybe there is an issue with Winston's game that teams are noticing.
However, Winston is a player who won't receive major notoriety, but can ultimately play a solid role at an important position. He played his first five seasons with the Houston Texans under Kubiak's leadership, and proved to be a viable option in the zone-read offense. Winston has spent the last two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs and Arizona Cardinals respectively, providing consistency at a position where there aren't many valuable options available elsewhere.
While Winston did struggles at times in 2013, he endured one of the difficult challenges for a right tackle by facing the Seahawks, 49ers, and Rams defenses twice each during the season. He was viewed expendable by both teams due in large part to how right tackle is viewed by some teams in the league. The right tackle position is often a stopgap for teams who either plug in a young player or a cheap veteran, and hope for those players to be sufficient enough over the entire season.
In a league where offensive line play has become more valuable in recent years, the Ravens should not pass up the opportunity to add a veteran like Winston into the mix. They could very well display the confidence in Wagner to become a quality right tackle in his first full season as a starter.
But they could become more confident in Wagner if he were to embrace the pressure by outperforming Winston in training camp, and fully earn the starting role in 2014.