An NFL roster is an ever changing beast. The ebbs and flows of a season and everything surrounding it dictates that teams will make plenty of changes to their roster.
Whether that’s bringing in known quantities via the free agent or trade market, or drafting young players who may one day compete for a spot, front offices keep their nose to the grindstone year round when it comes to roster churn. However, sometimes the necessary move is the one which takes place in-house.
That is when a player already on the roster enters the lineup as a starter or consistently within the rotation. This is something that obviously always has potential to take place throughout the season.
The 2018 Baltimore Ravens have gotten off to one of their more promising starts in comparison to recent years, posting a 4-2 record through six outings so far. The defense has been exceptional as always and the offense has carried their fair share of the weight as well.
That latter reality isn’t one which Ravens fans are used to. The last couple of seasons have been especially tilted to the favor of the defense, with the roster being built in an imbalanced manner. The offense wouldn’t click, the defense would carry the team for most of the year and it would almost always result in disappointment.
So with the offense finally firing on some of the correct cylinders, why would the team look to make a change almost half way through the year?
Bleacher Report’s Brent Sobleski recently wrote an article exploring this question, pitching why rookie tackle Orlando Brown Jr. is among a few players across the league who have earned more playing time. In it, Sobleski cites Brown’s relatively strong play in limited opportunities given, as well as the inconsistencies of current starting right tackle James Hurst:
Rookie Orlando Brown Jr. spent the majority of preseason at right tackle with the Baltimore Ravens’ first-team offense. James Hurst, meanwhile, played right guard for the injured Marshal Yanda. Once Baltimore’s medical staff cleared Yanda to play, the coaching staff immediately named Hurst the starting right tackle because of his previous experience. It may not have been the right move despite the organization’s four-year, $17.5 million investment in the 26-year-old blocker. Hurst has been inconsistent on the strong side, while Brown has performed well in limited opportunities. “Everyone in the locker room wants to play,” Hurst said, per Penn Live’s Aaron Kasinitz. “Not everyone in the locker room can or will play. Even though two plays isn’t a lot, it’s more than zero. [Brown’s] excited to get in, he’s been doing a good job with it, just getting in with high energy and executing his assignment well.” Brown doesn’t have to outright replace Hurst at right tackle. Another option exists. The Ravens could move the veteran to left guard and unseat Alex Lewis, who may miss time due to a pinched nerve in his neck, according to ESPN.com’s Jamison Hensley. Shuffling an offensive line midseason is difficult, but the goal remains the same: Put the best five blockers on the field. “The coaching staff knows where I’m at as far as playing, and I’m just trusting them and their decisions,” Brown said.
The important point that is that this is a move which may just be made out of necessity. With Lewis currently out with what initially looked like a scary neck injury, Brown may be inserted into the spot tackle while Hurst slides inside.
While Lewis’ injury is thankfully not looking to be long term at the moment, this could be an alignment that could work for the offense moving forward. The interior line outside of perennial all-pro Marshal Yanda has seen its share of struggles. A retooling may be what it needs to kick into gear for the meaty stretch of the season.
While the offense has been much stronger this year, the line has struggled a bit with run blocking and hasn’t been entirely consistent in keeping Joe Flacco clean. If the coaching staff were to ever make a change, the time would be now.
It’s especially not a risky move when considering Brown’s pedigree. The former Oklahoma Sooner likely would’ve been a first round pick if not for a rough combine performance. Playing tackle for one of the top teams in the country while protecting the blindside for high profile quarterback Baker Mayfield means that no challenge should be too big for him.
Baltimore faces their biggest test of the season on Sunday as the New Orleans Saints and their high flying offense come to town. Baltimore’s attack will need to keep pace to win this game and inserting a promising talent like Brown into mix may be just what they need to keep rolling.