By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun
6:12 PM EDT, April 23, 2013
If he had it his way, Kelechi Osemele wouldn't be moving anywhere. The Ravens would re-sign free agent left tackle Bryant McKinnie and the offensive line, minus the retired Matt Birk, would start the 2013 season like it ended last year.
"It would be good to have that same lineup but things change and you have to be able to adapt," Osemele said Tuesday.
After just one NFL season, Osemele has learned that lesson already. A second-round pick in 2012, Osemele started all 16 regular-season games for the Ravens at right tackle, a position that he hadn't played extensively in several years. When the playoffs began, Osemele was shifted to left guard to accommodate McKinnie's insertion into the starting lineup.
The alignment, which included Michael Oher moving from left to right tackle, was cited as one of the primary reasons quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens' offense excelled in the playoffs. Now, as he prepares for his sophomore season, Osemele sits atop the Ravens' depth chart at left tackle.
Osemele, 23, said that he hasn't been told by head coach John Harbaugh that he is going to play left tackle. However, Harbaugh and other team officials said last week that if the season was to start soon, Osemele would get the assignment of protecting Flacco's blindside.
"If that's the situation, then I'm good with it. Wherever they put me, I'll play to the best of my ability," Osemele said. "I would be very comfortable. As far as the footwork goes — having played it my whole college career and starting every game at that position — I think I'd be fairly comfortable with that switch."
Things can change quickly in the NFL and general manager Ozzie Newsome said just last week that the Ravens are "very open" as far as their left tackle plans. The Ravens have 12 picks in this week's draft, including the 32nd overall selection of Thursday's first round. However, the top three left tackles are projected to be gone within the top 10 picks.
Negotiations with McKinnie also remain ongoing and his return, which Osemele endorsed, would likely result in Osemele remaining at left guard. It's unclear how serious the Ravens are about moving Osemele to left tackle, but there are clearly members of the organization, including owner Steve Bisciotti, who are intrigued by the thought.
"He's done it," Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said last week. "He did it at Iowa State.
"We've seen him play left tackle well. He's a smart guy. He's motivated. He's got long arms. He's a good athlete. He can bend. All those things factor into the equation."
Ravens running back Ray Rice also said that he'd be comfortable with Osemele on the left side and he feels that he could handle it both from a physical and mental standpoint.
"You have to look at a guy who has sacrificed and went from a tackle to a guard," Rice said Tuesday. "The physical side of him, I think you draft certain players and call them Ravens. He definitely fit that off the jump. You got to be a very smart football player to do what he did, especially to move from right to left to guard. They say there's a lot of interchangeable pieces but when you're moving a guy around like they moved K.O. and for him not to have the [missed assignments] and the mess-ups, that's the thing that really impresses the coaches and myself."
Osemele admitted that he had a "shaky" start to his rookie year but he got more comfortable as the season wore on. Playing right tackle, he allowed seven sacks in his first 11 games but none in his final nine, according to Pro Football Focus. The analytical web site graded him a positive pass-blocking grade and a positive overall grade. Osemele also committed eight penalties (six were false starts) in 20 games, a respectable number for a rookie who underwent a position change during the season.
Osemele struggled with speed rushers on occasions but he was clearly a more effective blocker after moving to guard. In fact, he was Pro Football Focus' second highest graded player in the Ravens' Super Bowl XLVII victory over the San Francisco 49ers, behind only Flacco, who was voted the game MVP.
"I felt like it was pretty natural with just the build of my body and everything like that," said Osemele when asked why he performed better at guard. "I felt like it was a smooth transition and a natural move for me."
Would the transition to left tackle go as smoothly? Osemele is 6-foot-5 and said he's down to 330 pounds, so his size obviously isn't an issue. However, there are questions about whether he has the foot speed to play the position. What Osemele enjoyed most above moving to guard is not having to deal with the speed of the outside pass rushers.
"Playing left tackle and right tackle is all about being comfortable in your stance and being able to get out and being able to kick," Osemele said. "If you are comfortable kicking from both sides, it doesn't make too much of a difference."
Osemele started 38 games at left tackle at Iowa State and was an All-Big 12 first-team selection in his senior season. He said all he'd need is a "few snaps" to get reacquainted with the position. McKinnie's status, along with what the Ravens do later this week in the draft, could determine whether he gets those snaps.
"I'd love to have him back here," Osemele said of McKinnie. "He's a great asset to our team, just a powerful weapon to have especially with both of us on the same side. But I trust Ozzie and those guys. They know what they're doing and they know what direction they want to [take] our team into. Whatever they decide to do, I trust them fully. … As long as I'm on the field, and we have the best linemen on the field, that's what's most important to me, giving the team the best possible chance to win games."
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