After two preseason games and almost three weeks worth of practices, it seems that the Ravens still don’t have their starting offensive line solidified. The line in Monday’s practice was significantly different than the line in Friday’s preseason game against the Detroit Lions, and it will probably be different again next week.
On Friday, Michael Oher was at left tackle, Bobbie Williams was at left guard, Matt Birk was at center, Marshal Yanda was at right guard, and Kelechi Osemele was at right tackle. The first-team line on Monday featured Bryant McKinnie at left tackle and Oher at right tackle, with Osemele working with the second team.
At this point, only two of the five spots seem to be firm, with Birk at center and Yanda at right guard. Oher will start at one of the tackles. A lot of where Oher ends up depends on McKinnie and if he earns the starting job on the left side of the line.
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“Bryant’s done a good job of being in shape,” Birk said. “I think he’s moving as well as I’ve seen him move in a long time on the backside, getting his backside blocks and backside cutoffs.”
Oher, in his fourth year, isn’t the only Raven who has been rotating spots on the line frequently. Osemele has seen time at left guard as well as tackle, and the rookie could wind up starting at guard.
It would seemingly be a disadvantage to have the group in flux, seeing as the line is basically five players trying to do the same job as one, cohesive group. The more people rotating in and out, the harder it is to figure out that group cohesiveness.
But Birk, the Harvard grad in his 15th year, thinks it could actually be an advantage.
“It’s a challenge because everyone is different and you have to get a little different feel for the guys that are next to you, but at the same time you just accept that that’s part of the deal,” Birk said. “I think we are fortunate that this is the deepest group of offensive lineman that we’ve had since I’ve been here.
“We kind of start with a clean slate and everybody starts on the same page with everybody moving along at the same pace, so it’s actually good thing having new guys or different guys playing different positions because we probably tend to over-communicate a bit, which is never a bad thing.”
The other advantage of rotating this many guys in and out of the line is when injuries strike, which is almost inevitable with the age of the Ravens offensive line. Birk is 36, McKinnie is 32 and has conditioning issues his whole career, and the 35-year old Williams is coming off a broken ankle that ended his 2011 season. Having guys with pre-season experience coming off the bench might not be the worst thing in the world.
Still, it’s going to be difficult for the offensive line to mesh with so many rotating parts, and quarterback Joe Flacco understands that. He is planning on the starting group getting settled at some point soon — or he hopes so, anyway.
“You want to get to a point where there is some continuity between those guys and they can really play together and be in sync, because that is the most important position of the field, as a whole, and those guys need to play off each other and get comfortable with each other,” Flacco said. “It’s good in the sense that you find out who is going to be a player for you, and a lot of guys get quality reps that they wouldn’t be getting on a practice field, but there comes a point where you need to get all those guys out there and get them comfortable with each other.”