The departure of both Austin Howard and Ryan Jensen was expected, but it certainly does not mean replacing them was an easy feat. Jensen performed as a top ten center, according to PFF, and Howard was a great fit for Baltimore at right tackle. Now, both positions need to be filled in, but the Ravens did not draft nor sign a high-end lineman during the 2018 NFL Draft or free agency; the team will promote from within.
The Ravens look tough in many areas, from the rebuilt receiving unit and the strong structure of the defense to the all-star special teams, but the offensive line is questionable as of now. If Joe can’t get a clean pocket, the millions of dollars poured into weapons for Flacco are a moot point.
Matt Skura is an obvious choice for the center position after taking another step in his development to full-time starter. In 2017, Skura played in and started 12 games for the Ravens at the guard position, filling in for the injured Alex Lewis and Marshal Yanda. He provided strong, consistent blocking for Alex Collins, Joe Flacco and the rest of the Baltimore backfield. Just over a month ago, Skura signed a one-year/$550,000 deal with the Ravens, which sets yet another Raven lineman up for a big payday if the results of the past two seasons stack up. Skura’s bounced around the interior line for a while now, but I suspect come July and August, Matt is running with the first-team offense.
Skura isn’t the only one vying for the starting center position as sixth-round draft pick Bradley Bozeman wasn’t drafted to sit in the back seat. Yes, Alabama has produced many household names at running back, but they didn’t waltz through the trenches on their own, Bozeman certainly attributed. If he can grasp an NFL offense, watch for the competition to heat up quickly.
The right tackle position is detrimental to the success of the Ravens franchise and there’s currently an open competition between multiple players.
I expect the current placeholder to be veteran Raven, James Hurst. Ozzie and Eric just re-signed Hurst to a four-year/$17.5 million deal. Some have questioned this move, but if Hurst takes the leap from good-to-great guard into starting right tackle, there won’t be a complaint heard in Maryland. Doesn’t mean there isn’t worry, though, as Hurst’s play at right tackle hasn’t produced strong results thus far.
Alex Lewis is a possibility at right tackle. He was a left tackle with Nebraska and is certainly big enough for the job: 6-foot-6, 315 pounds. Lewis missed an entire year to shoulder surgery, but has received a full year of rest and is ready to work towards a strong season in 2018.
In the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Baltimore picked up Orlando Brown Jr., whose tape shines brightly. After a disastrous combine, the once-expected first-round talent plummeted to the third, in which Ozzie scooped up the tumbling tackle into the franchise his father played for. With a great locker room and Joe D’Alessandris coaching the offensive line, Zeus Jr. has a chance to thrive in a supportive environment.
The Ravens also have Jermaine Eluemunor, Nico Siragusa and rookie Greg Senat in competition to either start or back up at right tackle. It won’t be easy leaping over Brown, Lewis and Hurst, but it’s not out of the question.
These two position battles should be the biggest focus for Ravens fans. Two of the five positions on the line are currently unknown, and they’re vital to keeping Joe Flacco and the offense moving the chains. One of my priorities will be studying their play in training camp this season.