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The Ravens must acquire a pure center this offseason

Oh snap . . .

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

For several years now, the Ravens have neglected to address the center position via the draft or free agency. Instead, they’ve adopted a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to interior offensive lineman. The front office has added guards and centers both and shuffled them around, experimenting with different combinations.

However, it’s been quite awhile since the Ravens drafted a center and he transitioned into playing that same position in the NFL. The last time this happened was in 2013 when they landed Ryan Jensen in the sixth round. Jensen was groomed into a starting-caliber center but bolted in free agency in 2017 after pricing himself out of the Ravens’ range.

Since Jensen’s departure, Matt Skura and Patrick Mekari have combined to fill the starting role in the middle of the offensive line. Skura started all 16 games in 2018 and the first 11 games of 2019, before a knee injury cut his season short. Mekari, who went undrafted two years ago, finished out the 2019 season as the starter.

A similar storyline played out in 2020. Skura returned from injury and started the first 12 games before being benched in favor of Mekari. Skura was benched due to recurring issues with snapping the football. Mekari had this same problem in the team’s playoff loss to the Bills, where several of his snaps were too low, too high, or off-target in one direction.

Skura and Mekari have both performed adequately at times, but their struggles this past year demonstrate a glaring reality: the Ravens need to upgrade at the position this offseason.

Neither Skura nor Mekari were natural centers to begin their career. Skura started 12 games at right guard for the Ravens in 2016. Mekari played guard and tackle in college at the University of California. However, the Ravens ultimately transitioned both players into playing center for Baltimore.

This underscores the need to draft or sign a PURE center — someone who has experience playing the position and snapping the football, whether that be in college or in the NFL.

In theory, the idea of bringing in offensive lineman who are “versatile” and can “play multiple positions” sounds great. In many ways, this winds up being an asset and strengthens the overall depth of the line. However, it becomes an issue when the top two centers on your depth chart can’t snap the football effectively and you have no other natural center on the roster to fill the void.

Bradley Bozeman played center at Alabama during his college career. Since being drafted by the Ravens in 2016, though, Bozeman has never started a game at center. Instead, he’s become the starting left guard — starting all 32 games at that spot since the start of the 2019 season.

Could moving Bozeman to center be the answer? It’s an interesting thought. Bozeman has been adequate at left guard over the past two seasons, though, so it seems unlikely the Ravens would suddenly try him at center. If they were going to, it probably would have already happened by now.

Ben Bredeson, who the Ravens drafted with the 143rd pick in 2020, has the physical makeup of a prototypical center. It’s possible the Ravens could try to transition him to center this offseason but like Mekari, Bredeson played left guard at Michigan and was an offensive tackle in high school — so center is not his natural position.

The Ravens can’t afford to experiment with shuffling interior offensive lineman around any longer. Moving a right guard to left guard or vice versa is clearly different than moving a guard to center. Snapping the ball effectively seems like a simple skill but as we saw on multiple occasions this season, bad snaps can lose you football games.

Eric DeCosta and John Harbaugh have already spoke at length about improving the offensive line this offseason, declaring it as arguably the biggest need. What this looks like remains to be seen but whatever changes are on the horizon, getting a CENTER to play center must be one of them.