During the first nine years of his career, Baltimore Ravens offensive guard Kevin Zeitler has been on some really good offensive lines that featured the occasional behemoth or two. He’s played alongside the likes of left tackles Joe Thomas, Andrew Whitworth, and guard Joel Bitonio, all of which are multi-time Pro Bowlers who were either over 6-foot-5 or weighed over 320 lbs. when they played together.
However, he’s never been a part of a starting unit that consisted of more than a couple of big athletic bodies. That will change this year because in his first season with the Ravens, he’s slated to be surrounded by gigantic physical specimens after General Manager Eric DeCosta remodeled and fortified the unit at both guard and tackle.
Ravens' Kevin Zeitler: "This is the biggest line I've ever been on. In this league, you need big people who can do crazy, cool athletic things."— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) August 19, 2021
The projected line:
LT Stanley (6-6, 315)
LG Cleveland (6-6, 357)
C Bozeman (6-5, 325)
RG Zeitler (6-4, 315)
RT Villanueva (6-9, 320)
“I’d definitely say I think this is the biggest line I’ve ever been on,” Zeitler said. “And it’s pretty wild – you see some of the genetic freaks that the league produces, and you’re like, ‘Geez, why can’t I be like that?’ But that’s exciting. In this league, you need big people who can do crazy, cool, athletic things, and I think we’ve got that group of people.”
At 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds, Zeitler certainly isn’t undersized for an interior offensive lineman. However, he is the shortest of the projected starters listed by ESPN’s Jamison Hensley by an inch and tied with Stanley for the lightest in terms of weight.
Zeitler made his return to practice this week after missing some time with an ankle injury and believes he is nearing regular-season form.
“[It’s] training camp – long, long process – and it’s always unfortunate when you miss a little time, but I’m glad to be back,” Zeitler said. “I feel great, and I’m starting to get the grind on and get to where I want to be.”
He isn’t the only offensive lineman that the Ravens will be counting on this year that has had or is currently dealing with a minor injury. Stanley has made substantial progress in his rehabilitation from major ankle surgery since being activated from the PUP list but is still not quite full go and is being eased back into action.
“It was great to see Ronnie [Stanley] out there. [We’re taking it] just kind of step by step; I’m sure he could do more if we wanted to,” said Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh. “We’re just kind of working him back in at a good, nice pace. He looked good today, and I’m glad to have him out there.”
Bozeman missed a day of practice with a minor ankle sprain he suffered in the preseason opener and Cleveland has practiced just once in the last week as he recovers from a concussion. The only member of the projected starters that has not missed any time outside of receiving a scheduled veteran day off is Villanueva.
Their collective lack of consistent availability has led to growing concerns over the continuity of the unit or more aptly, the lack thereof. Given that they will likely only have one rookie starter in Cleveland, the fact that it will be almost entirely made of veterans and seasoned pros give Zeitler confidence that it won’t take long once they all get together on a consistent basis.
“Well, for me personally, [building chemistry has] varied quite a bit, but I like this line,” Zeitler said. “There are a lot of people who’ve been here already, there are a lot of veteran players, and I think we all like each other quite a bit, so I’m hoping that it speeds it up.”
There’s still a little over three weeks until the Ravens open the 2021 season with a primetime matchup with the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday Night Football. That leaves them plenty of time to get on the same page assuming they all can get and stay on the field. If this beastly group of blockers can stay intact this season, the offense will be able to impose their will in the run game and provide Lamar Jackson with plenty of time to show off his improved passing prowess.