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Versatility could be key in Ravens' crowded offensive line picture

FootballBaltimore RavensBryant McKinnieGino GradkowskiAntoine McClainKelechi Osemele

Over the last couple of weeks, the Ravens have added and retained seven offensive linemen, further complicating what figures to be one of the more competitive -- if not interesting -- position battles in training camp.

They drafted Wisconsin tackle Rick Wagner in the fifth round and Ryan Jensen, a tackle from Colorado State University-Pueblo, in the sixth. Immediately after the draft, they agreed to undrafted free agent deals with tackles Jordan Devey (Memphis), Rogers Gaines (Tennessee State) and J.J. Unga (Midwestern State).

This week, they finalized deals for two veterans: Bryant McKinnie, who returns after spending parts of the past two seasons as the Ravens starting left tackle; and A.Q. Shipley, a center who was acquired from the Indianapolis Colts for a conditional 2014 draft pick.

Assuming there are no injuries and the highly scrutinized McKinnie shows up to training camp in shape, the expectation is that the starting offensive line on Sept. 5 in Denver will be McKinnie at left tackle, Kelechi Osemele at left guard, Gino Gradkowski at center, Pro Bowler Marshal Yanda at right guard and Michael Oher at right tackle. Of course, Gradkowski will have the most work to do in training camp to solidify his starting status, especially after yesterday’s acquisition of Shipley, who started five games at center for the Colts last season.

But the competition for the other three or four offensive line spots may come down to position flexibility and versatility. If Shipley can’t beat out Gradkowski for the starting center spot, can he be counted on to back up at both guard spots, like veteran Bobbie Williams did last year? Are Jah Reid and Ramon Harewood, two players who started at left guard for stretches last season, the top backups for McKinnie and Oher at tackle, or are they essentially viewed as guards? Can Wagner and Jensen, both tackles in college, make the transition to the interior?

It will be several months before we know the answers to those questions, but it’s easy to look at the 17-man group, which also includes center Reggie Stephens, guard Antoine McClain and tackles Jack Cornell and David Mims, and conclude that several offensive linemen with some upside or going to have a real hard time making the Ravens.

Heading into the Super Bowl, the Ravens carried eight offensive linemen on their active roster, one on injured reserve (Reid) and two on the practice squad (Cornell and McClain).

As of now, their current top eight appears to be (in no particular order): Yanda, Oher, Osemele, McKinnie, Gradkowski, Shipley, Harewood and Reid. But Wagner and Jensen will obviously figure into the mix as the Ravens give their draft picks every opportunity to make the squad.

Either way, Ravens coach John Harbaugh talks all the time about how much he loves competition. With 17 guys potentially bidding for eight or nine spots, the offensive line competition will definitely be worth monitoring.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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FootballBaltimore RavensBryant McKinnieGino GradkowskiAntoine McClainKelechi Osemele
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