Teams across the league will be reporting for training camp very soon and the Baltimore Ravens have a handful of position groups that will feature tight contested battles for snaps and a spot on the final roster.
The Ravens vowed to reinforce and replenish the depth of their offensive line this offseason, particularly at offensive tackle. They were woefully deficient after All-Pro Ronnie Stanley was limited to just one game in 2021. While they added a pair of tackles and used a first-round pick on a center, one position they didn’t add any notable competition to for the first time in three years was left guard.
10-year veteran Kevin Zeitler has the right guard spot on lock but the left guard job is up for grabs. It will be an open competition between Ben Cleveland, Tyre Phillips, Ben Powers, and Patrick Mekari if none of the others seize the role by the season opener.
Cleveland is the early favorite to emerge victorious after he showed some promising flashes as a rookie and given his youth and imposing physique. He rotated at the spot with Powers for three weeks from Week 2-5, suffered a minor knee injury, and got to start the final four games of the season after returning from injured reserve. He’d benefit greatly from playing next to Stanley as the two would form a massive wall on the left side in pass protection.
Phillips possesses the positional flexibility to play both guard and tackle but is best suited playing on the interior of the offensive line. He earned the starting right guard job as a rookie in 2020 and the starting left guard spot in last year’s training camp. Injuries to himself and others forced him out of position for spans during his first two career seasons, where has made 15 total starts (13 regular season, two postseason). Phillips will likely be Cleveland’s top competition as the two third-rounders aim to claim a starting spot.
Powers is entering the final year of his rookie contract and likely his last training camp with the Ravens. However, this could change if injuries occur at the position or if he utterly dominates enough to win the starting spot followed up by a standout 2022 season. Powers might end up being this year’s Ben Bredeson — in terms of a former fourth-round pick at a position of surplus who is traded for a late-round draft pick.
While he doesn’t have any more years of team control like Bredeson did in 2021 heading into just his second season, Powers has started 19 of the 30 regular season appearances and two in the postseason.
Mekari is a quality backup at all five spots with starting experience in the NFL at all but left tackle. The Ravens likely want him to be the ‘break glass in case of emergency’ option to emerge as the starter at left guard. They will still give him the opportunity to win the job after signing him to a three-year extension late last season. Mekari performed more than admirably at right tackle for 12 games in 2021. However, like Phillips, the former undrafted gem is best suited at one of the interior spots given his lack of arm length and technical proficiency.
For the third year in a row, one of the starting offensive guard spots will likely come down to who performs best in training camp. Thankfully, there will be a second straight preseason after the pandemic caused the cancellation of the 2020 exhibition slate — which made it even more impressive that Phillips wound up being the Week 1 starter as a rookie. He’ll have his work cut out for him this year, as will his teammates and fellow competitors.
Preseason performances will play a large factor in who ultimately wins the job.