When the Ravens acquired left tackle Eugene Monroe from the Jacksonville Jaguars in October 2013, they traded for a player who had shown he could be counted on as a cornerstone left tackle over his first five seasons.
On Sunday against his former team, Monroe, who is returning from a multiweek shoulder injury, has the opportunity to begin a spell that can eliminate some of the criticisms about his play and questions about his durability as the team's well-paid, franchise left tackle.
"I think I've said this before: sometimes, injury just happens," Monroe said this week. "Some players are lucky enough to play and not miss any time. Some guys get hurt. Unfortunately, recently, I've dealt with some injuries that have taken some time away. But I'm focused on this week. I'm back on the field and that's all that's important right now."
If anyone from Jacksonville's organization were left from his tenure just over two years ago, they'd hardly recognize this version of Monroe, who for them was as durable as they come.
Monroe played in 11 games for the Ravens after they acquired him from the Jaguars for a pair of mid-round draft picks during the 2013 season, marking his fifth straight season as a reliable tackle.
Before 2014, he never played less than 15 games in a season, and after the 2013 season, the Ravens signed him to a five-year, $37.5 million contract — with $19 million guaranteed —to be that foundational player he was in Jacksonville.
Running back Justin Forsett, who played with Monroe in Jacksonville as well, said he was one of that team's most diligent workers.
"You see him in the offseason, this guy is like Sylvester Stallone out there in the weight room, running around," Forsett said. "He's a very athletic tackle, can do a lot of things, and he's a true pro. Takes care of his body on and off the field. It's just unfortunate that he's had to grind through some injuries."
Those injuries — four different ones that have forced him to leave three games and caused him to miss 11 more on offense — have been destabilizing for the Ravens offensive line, this year more so than last.
His first long stretch out of action began in Week 4 last season, when he missed four games following knee surgery. He then missed the final game of the regular season and the wild-card win against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He then was active but didn't play offense in the divisional round loss to the New England Patriots after suffering an ankle injury in Week 16 against the Houston Texans.
This year, Monroe was out for a stretch during training camp with a bruised forearm, left the season opener against the Denver Broncos with a concussion and missed the ensuing three games. He then left the Week 7 loss at the Arizona Cardinals with a shoulder injury and didn't play the following week. Monroe was a full participant in practice all week, and is expected to play Sunday.
When he has been healthy, however, he has only shown flashes of being the player the Ravens expect him to be, and that has brought plenty of ire from fans.
"Anytime you have a player of Eugene's quality, that [continuity] is very important," coach John Harbaugh said. "He's a great athlete, and he's a smart player, and he knows how to play. Obviously, the injuries for him have been most frustrating, because it's hard to get into a rhythm when you're not playing week after week. And then you get out there and something gets nicked up, and you're out for another week or two, and you have to restart again."
Harbaugh said that on-again, off-again cycle has impacted his deputy, reserve left tackle James Hurst.
"He hasn't had continuity, either," Harbaugh said. "Continuity at that position would really help us. Hopefully, Eugene can stay healthy and play because he's a heck of a player, and he's going to play at a high level as long as he's out there."
Monroe said that when healthy, he's still the same player as he was in those durable years in Jacksonville.
"I don't see anything different in myself," Monroe said. "I've dealt with some injury, and I'm not the first and I'm not the last player that will. It is what it is. I'm going to move on, move forward, just like I've always done. That's really it."
Right tackle Rick Wagner said Monroe understands the scrutiny he's under because of his position.
"He's a real calm guy," Wagner said. "He's real professional, and he knows at the position — left tackle with a big contract — he expects that coming into each year. I think that's just part of his job, and I think he really does well with it."
Several offensive linemen said this week how important it was to have Monroe back, and noted how frustrating it has been for him to deal with these injuries.
"It's tough," said center Jeremy Zuttah, who is dealing with his own shoulder injury. "Especially with Eugene, I don't think he missed a game his whole first however many years. It's just some bad luck. Obviously, it's frustrating when you can't get out there every week. I think he's excited to get back on the field and pick up where he left off."