INDIANAPOLIS — The Ravens have drafted an interior offensive lineman in the first round just once in team history, taking Auburn left guard Ben Grubbs with the 29th pick in the 2007 draft.
They are picking in the same spot again this April, and that plan could repeat itself in an effort to find Grubbs' replacement.
Offensive linemen took center stage at the first full day of the NFL scouting combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. They interviewed with teams, underwent psychological and physical testing and then met with the media. They'll have to wait until Saturday to participate in workouts, which will serve as a showcase for a Ravens team that has the difficult task of trying to rebuild its line this offseason.
"You talk about [their] interior offensive line, [they] could have some free agency issues there also," NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock said. "I think one of the best classes here is the interior offensive linemen in this draft. Depending on how it plays out, I think there is a lot of flexibility with the interior offensive lineman [in the] draft. I think for the first three rounds, you can get a lot of quality at center or either guard."
It's easy to see why rebuilding an offensive line that struggled in the Ravens' two playoff games, has emerged as one of general manager Ozzie Newsome's top offseason priorities.
Center Matt Birk, who struggled mightily against the New England Patriots' Vince Wilford in the AFC championship game, is a free agent and mulling retirement. Grubbs appears primed to parlay his Pro Bowl season into a big contract, one that could be prohibitive to a Ravens team that signed right guard Marshal Yanda to a five-year, $32.5 million contract in July.
Left tackle Bryant McKinnie is 32 years old, entering the final year of his contract and has struggled in the past with conditioning. Top backup Andre Gurode is also a free agent, and the other reserve offensive linemen are all unproven and inexperienced.
While the draft is still more than two months away, it's no secret the Ravens are looking far and wide for offensive line help. They are expected to meet this week with some of the draft's top eligible linemen, including tackles Mike Adams (Ohio State) and Jonathan Martin (tackle), guards Dave DeCastro (Stanford), Cordy Glenn (Georgia) and Kevin Zeitler (Wisconsin), and center Peter Konz (Wisconsin).
There will be plenty more names to come up between now and April 26, the first day of the draft, as several offensive line-needy teams pore through their options.
"It's a little different," Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said when asked to evaluate the offensive line draft class. "It's a little better on the interior, specifically at guard than it has been in recent years, which is unusual. Tackles are still good. It's not as deep as it has been, and [at] center it's not very deep at all."
Konz is considered the best center in the draft, and he's been the player that most mock drafts connect to the Ravens with the 29th pick. Konz wasn't available to the media Thursday, but Zeitler, his Wisconsin teammate who is primarily a guard but can also play center, called him the "best center in the draft."
"I don't think there's anyone who can really compete with him," Zeitler said.
Georgia center Ben Jones also said he met with the Ravens today, but most projections have him going in the second and third round. Either way, the Ravens seem focused on adding a center, something that Newsome promised they would do earlier this month regardless of whether Birk returns or not.
Things are just as murky at the guard spot, assuming Grubbs leaves. The Ravens are expected to at least talk to Grubbs, but they've acknowledged since the start of the offseason that it will be extremely difficult to sign him while also committing to contract extensions for quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice and filling their other needs of a center, wide receiver, pass rusher and linebacker.
There has been some suggestion that the Ravens could move tackle Jah Reid — a third-round pick last year who played sparingly in his rookie season — to left guard. But that would be a significant risk for a team that will carry Super Bowl aspirations into the season.
The more likely scenario if Grubbs leaves appears to be addressing the position in the draft. Most pundits expect DeCastro and Glenn to both go in the first round, perhaps before the Ravens even get a chance to pick. However, there is expected to be value at the position in the later rounds.
It's also plausible that the Ravens will opt to select a tackle. While Michael Oher is entrenched on the right side, McKinnie is clearly not the Ravens' long-term answer to protect Flacco's blind side.
Tackles Matt Kalil (USC), Reilly Reiff (Iowa) and Martin are expected to go in the first half of the first round, but it's possible that Ohio State's Adams slips to the late first round, particularly if teams are scared off by some of his off-the-field issues.
Adams, who was involved with the tattoo scandal at Ohio State, was suspended for the first seven total games in his collegiate career for off-the-field indiscretions.
"I had some bumps in the road earlier in my career, but I think that I used those things to build my character rather than to bring it down," Adams said. "I think that my character is something that my teammates and coaches at Ohio State would vouch for. Anybody who knows me knows that I'm not a bad guy. I've definitely made some mistakes, but I've definitely learned from them.
"It's just a blessing to be even in this position. If my name is called in the first round, I can't even explain how that would feel."