The education of right tackle-in-waiting Jah Reid has turned into a frenetic crash course just four months after he was drafted by the Ravens.
Reid, the team's third-round pick this year, is a willing student with all the requisite skills for the job. What he lacks in experience, he attempts to make up for with endless repetition, unwavering determination, and a passionate work ethic.
Whether that will prepare him for Kansas City pass rusher Tamba Hali in the Ravens' second preseason game on Friday — or, more importantly, LaMarr Woodley of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 11 — is anyone's guess. But it seems clear the Ravens want Reid to be their right tackle sooner rather than later.
Coach John Harbaugh saw enough in last week's preseason opener to know the Ravens have a special player.
"I saw a guy that's going to be a really good player," Harbaugh said. "It's just a matter of when. It's going to take a certain amount of time. Hopefully, it doesn't take more than about four weeks. That would be our goal to get him ready in four weeks."
This observation came despite the fact Reid struggled more late in the preseason opener in Philadelphia than he did early. By the fourth quarter, after drawing two false start penalties, Reid could barely contain the pass rush on his side.
"I'd give myself a poor," Reid said when asked to grade himself. "It definitely wasn't a good showing. I need improvement every way that I can. I have some work to do."
Reid, whose offseason preparation included sessions with former Chiefs great Will Shields, refused to blame the performance on fatigue. But Harry Swayne, who started at right tackle on the Ravens' 2000 Super Bowl champion, recognized it as "mental fatigue."
Without team-supervised offseason workouts that indoctrinate rookies, Reid has had to learn on the run with no small amount of pressure or expectation. In addition to working with new line coach Andy Moeller and assistant Todd Washington, Reid asked Swayne for his input during training camp.
In fact, Swayne, who is the Ravens' director of player development, spends 10 to 15 minutes at the end of every practice with Reid going over questions the young player has. Earlier this week, they worked on keeping Reid's hands on his opponent when they get knocked off, an issue at Philadelphia.
"I thought he did great his first time out," Swayne said. "He's got the body for it. But probably the best thing about Jah is, he wants it really badly. He wants to find out everything he can about how to play tackle in this league. Now, when he finds that out, whether or not he'll be able to implement that thing as soon as possible is part of the process."
Swayne started his NFL career on defense in Tampa Bay. In 1990, the Buccaneers switched him to offensive tackle, and it wasn't until November, in Washington, that he saw his first action on offense. The starter got hurt and Swayne had to face either Charles Mann or Dexter Manley of the Redskins on every play.
"That was not a good way to start," Swayne said. "I didn't give up any sacks, but Vinny [Testaverde] had to run for his life."
Asked if Reid, 23, can be ready by opening night to take on Woodley, who has menaced the Ravens during the Harbaugh era, Swayne walked a fine line.
"I would never do that to a rookie," he said, laughing. Then he qualified his statement.
"I look at it like this: He's got three warm-ups contests to go and quite frankly from an O-line perspective, even a veteran needs at least two games to get ready for a season. So if Jah gets every rep that he needs, and he makes all the important mistakes that need to be made, and he goes about correcting the ones that are vital to having success as a tackle … sure," Reid can be ready, Swayne said.
A little more than three weeks from the Pittsburgh game, the Ravens' offensive line remains in a state of flux. Oniel Cousins was given first chance to win the right tackle job and he played his way out of the position in Philadelphia. The Ravens moved him to right guard this week when Marshal Yanda missed practice with back spasms. It could become Cousins' permanent spot.
If the Ravens decide Reid isn't ready to take on Woodley in one of the biggest games of the season — he will need double-team help, at the least — they can opt to move Yanda back to tackle, where he spent all last season. They believe, however, they have a better line and running game with Yanda at guard.
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron wasn't in a patient frame of mind when asked about getting Reid up to speed by Week 1.
"He's in the mix whether he wants to be or not. Period," Cameron said. "In my mind, he is either going to be playing, or one or two plays from playing. … We are trying to get that point across to a lot of these guys. There are no four-year scholarships. There are a lot of different things that go through these guys' minds. We are trying to get you ready to play and help us win games and help them do their job. They have a job to do. We have to get past some of that other stuff."
Signing a veteran tackle after roster cuts is possible, but Yanda, who played Woodley to a standoff last season, remains a strong option at tackle.
"It may not be ideal," Cameron said, "but it's probably your best alternative. We'll come up with what we think is our best alternative."
For now, the offensive line has practice squad veteran Bryan Mattison filing in at center for injured Matt Birk, and uncertainty on the right side. The Ravens gave up six sacks against the Eagles and backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor took a pounding.
The 6-foot-7, 330-pound Reid can stabilize the problem if he can claim the job by the end of camp. That's his intention.
"It's not going to be easy," he said. "I know it's going to take a lot of work. I have to do everything I can just to make myself better every week and keep improving. Every aspect of my game needs improvement."
The Ravens are depending on it.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun