The Ravens offensive line has traditionally been one of the toughest in the NFL. Excelling mostly in the run game for backs like Jamal Lewis, Ray Rice. Even now, opening lanes for the likes of Justin Forsett, Buck Allen and rookie Kenneth Dixon. In 2015, the Ravens watched as one of the best offensive lines of the previous year fell victim to injuries.
For 2016, the Ravens and offensive line coach Juan Castillo looks to bring the offensive line back to its 2014 form. It won't be easy, as the Ravens saw Kelechi Osemele depart in free agency for a hefty contract with the Oakland Raiders. The team then drafted OT Ronnie Stanley with the six overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, which pretty much spelled the end for incumbent starter Eugene Monroe. It was a very controversial pick for many Ravens fans who wanted a receiver or pass rusher with such a high draft pick. The team then cut the often injured Monroe and pending a physical, will be signing veteran tackle Jake Long.
With right guard, right tackle and center being manned by Marshal Yanda, Rick Wagner and Jeremy Zuttah respectively, the competitions at left guard and left tackle will be the most interesting battles to watch as training camp rolls on. With Forsett and quarterback Joe Flacco both coming back from injuries, each player in these competitions must step up and prove themselves to the Ravens coaching staff because they have to get these positions right. Lets get started.
Replacing Kelechi Osemele at left guard will be a humongous task but the Ravens might have the guy for the job, as a matter of fact he played left guard last year when Osemele was moved to left tackle. That man is 2013 6th round pick Ryan Jensen. Jensen started six games at left guard in 2015-- showing tenacity and toughness at the left guard position while Osemele was moved to left tackle. With Jensen's experience last year, consider him the early favorite for the job.If Jensen fails, watch for LG/C John Urschel to take advantage. Urschel, now entering his third season with the team has started 18 games for the Ravens at guard and center.
The dark horse pick for the starting job would have to be fourth round pick Alex Lewis. Lewis is a very versatile lineman, which is the biggest reason the Ravens drafted him. Lewis is known for his toughness, but his character issues were a major concern for him coming out of college. If Lewis impresses the coaches just like he did in OTA's and mini camp, the rookie might not just have a spot on the team, but a starting role.
Newly signed Vladimir Ducasse should bring depth to the position in case of injury. This position comes down to a three-man marathon between Jensen, Urschel, and Lewis. While Urschel has the most experience, Jensen has the most upside.
At the left tackle position the Ravens are trying to replace, well, Kelechi Osemele. After Eugene Monroe's series of injuries continued and James Hursts' struggles, the Ravens moved Osemele to left tackle for the rest of the season. Now with Monroe and Osemele gone and Hurst being as far away from the starting job as possible barring a barrage of injuries, it seems like this is Ronnie Stanley's position to lose as he is the clear-cut favorite. Lets also be honest, as the sixth overall pick and the highest draft pick the Ravens have had in years, they want him to be the guy to man Flacco's blind side. The Ravens drafted Stanley due to his athletic talent and his strong run blocking ability.
However, the road to the starting job just became a bit harder with the signing of former Pro Bowler Jake Long. After a strong start to his career, the last couple of seasons have been marred by injuries. If Long can return to form and be a typical "low risk, high reward" signing for the Ravens, then Long can provide leadership and help mentor Stanley. Also, just in case Stanley gets hurt or if things go slowly for the young buck, the team can plug Long at left tackle while sliding Stanley at left guard. I mentioned the versatility of Alex Lewis, that's because the other position he played was left tackle. A player like that provides a big help to the depth chart just in case of any injuries. Sometimes you don't realize it until the season truly gets underway. When it comes to the bottom of the left tackle depth chart we see Hurst and De'Ondre Wesley. With the Long signing, they will both have to prove that they truly belong to make the final 53.
The Ravens offensive line has the potential to return to its 2014 form and I do believe that they will be better. Wagner and Zuttah are both solid, while Yanda is arguably the best offensive lineman in the game today. Jensen and Urschel should provide a good competition for the left guard spot and whoever wins truly earned it. The Ravens are hoping that Stanley can finally be the teams first franchise left tackle since Jonathan Ogden retired almost ten years ago. Lewis, Ducasse and Long will help provide the depth along with the loser of Urschel vs. Jensen. The two most important reasons for the Ravens to have success on the offensive side of the football are to protect Joe Flacco and to get the running game going again. Both of those things fall on the shoulders of the offensive line and coach Juan Castillo.