As you read about the various training camp competitions over the next 10 days, you probably won’t see much written about the offensive line. That’s because barring injuries, the starters appear to be set.
Bryant McKinnie, who re-signed with the Ravens in May, is the presumed starter at left tackle. Dominant after moving from right tackle to left guard for last year’s playoff run, Kelechi Osemele will remain at that spot. Gino Gradkowski didn’t start any games last year, but he’s the clear favorite to start at center in place of the retired Matt Birk. If he is healthy, Marshal Yanda remains one of the best right guards in the NFL, while Michael Oher is entrenched at right tackle.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh loves the competition and he’ll make sure that McKinnie, who was criticized for his practice habits early last season, is at least pushed in camp. However, all indications are that McKinnie has done everything the team has asked and is in significantly better shape than he was at any point during last year’s training camp.
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The Ravens also traded a late-round draft pick for center/guard A.Q. Shipley, who was brought in to challenge Gradkowski for the starting center role. Then there’s Yanda, who is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.
Still, it would be moderately surprising if the starting alignment was anything but McKinnie, Osemele, Gradkowski, Yanda and Oher. But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be some tough decisions for Harbaugh, run game coordinator Juan Castillo and offensive line coach Andy Moeller to make.
Of the 17 offensive linemen currently on the Ravens' roster, 12 of them have two years of NFL experience or less. Two of the players – guard/tackles Ramon Harewood and Jah Reid – are likely bidding for reserve roles and started multiple games for the Ravens last season. Harewood, Reid, Ryan Jensen and Rick Wagner were all taken in recent drafts and as mentioned above, Shipley was added in a trade.
The rest of the group, which includes center Reggie Stephens, guard Antoine McClain and tackles Jack Cornell, Jordan Devey, Rogers Gaines, David Mims and Joe Unga, were acquired as undrafted free agents.
Sure, a couple of the offensive linemen may be considered more camp fodder than threats to make the season-opening roster. Every team needs linemen to take practice reps with the third-team offense and close out one or two preseason games. But the Ravens love to develop young linemen and they believe that they have the quality coaches to do it, so it would be foolish to dismiss anybody’s roster chances less than two weeks before training camp begins.
However, it’s easy to get caught up in the numbers game. The Ravens started last season with nine offensive linemen on the roster and two more on the practice squad.
If they follow a similar script this year, that leaves only four or five reserve spots up for grabs with a dozen players competing for them. Shipley figures to occupy one of them as the top backup along the interior line. Harewood is probably the best option to back up at the tackle spots. Reid was taken in the third round in 2011 and the Ravens hate prematurely walking away from draft picks, so his spot looks pretty secure. That also bodes well for the roster chances of Wagner and Jensen, who were taken in the fifth and sixth rounds, respectively, in April.
A compelling case could also be made for Cornell and McClain, who team officials liked enough to keep around all last season. But there are only so many spots and the competition for them could become a pretty interesting storyline, even though the starters are seemingly set.