When Ravens right tackle Rick Wagner gets into his stance Sunday and squares off with Cincinnati Bengals veteran defensive end Wallace Gilberry, Eugene Monroe fully expects him to be ready.
Installed as the new starter after the departure of Michael Oher to the Tennessee Titans, Wagner has drawn positive reviews for the upgrades he's made in his blocking techniques and strength.
"I think Rick's going to be solid," said Monroe, the Ravens' left tackle. "He's worked his butt off. He's done really well. I'm glad we have him. He's going to be good."
A year ago, Wagner was forced into his first NFL game on an emergency basis when Oher sprained his ankle during an embarrassingly lopsided loss to the Denver Broncos. He wasn't ready for the speed of the game.
Wagner allowed three sacks to outside linebacker Shaun Phillips as he was unable to react in time to stop Phillips' array of speed rushes off the edge.
Now, the 2013 fifth-round draft pick from Wisconsin says he's prepared for this assignment.
"I have a lot more confidence this year," Wagner said. "More prepared, I'm excited. ..I think I had a good preseason as well as the whole offensive line. We really jelled this preseason and got the chemisty and the communication down. We're really excited."
Wagner has faded into the background during the preseason, becoming relatively unnoticed because of his competence. He also displayed some strong drive blocking during the preseason, clearing pathways for the running backs.
"I think that's a good thing," Wagner said. "As offensive linemen, you don't want to hear your name called. Just kind of blend in, and I think it's a compliment from the coaching staff."
The Bengals' defensive line features Pro Bowl tackle Geno Atkins, who returns from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered last season, along with left defensive end Carlos Dunlap, stout nose tackle Domata Peko and imposing backup Margus Hunt.
"They bring the heat," Monroe said. "We're prepared for it. We're very familiar with them. They have a solid group. It will be a nice challenge to open up with."
Wagner acknowledged some nervous excitement.
"It's just the first game of the year," Wagner said. "Everybody's going to have anxiety, a little nerves. Really just have to get that first play out of the way."
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