Ravens' success will start with the offensive line

The injured are starting to return one by one. One day, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs comes back, followed by receiver Steve Smith. Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil is now back on the roster and so is receiver Breshad Perriman.

That's all great news. But even though the stars are returning, if the Ravens are going to have success in 2016, they have to become stronger on the offensive line.


In two preseason games, the group has been inconsistent partly because of growing pains and also because of a lack of muscle.

There is little doubt that the Ravens' passing game will be improved from a year ago even though the Ravens still don't have a proven, vertical scoring threat. They have enough broken-down tight ends to help with the intermediate passing game and enough speed to spread out defenses.

They have several decent running backs even though there isn't one good enough to build an offense around. So with mediocrity at those two positions and a quality quarterback in Joe Flacco, the Ravens better have a strong offensive line.

If not, they are in for a long season.

The potential is there for this group to be good, at least to start showing signs of major improvement by the middle of the season. The Ravens have solid depth and good veteran leadership from center Jeremy Zuttah, now in his ninth season, and right guard Marshal Yanda.

Yanda, in his 10th season, is the tough guy of the group and has gone to five straight Pro Bowls. But after those two, the inexperience will show.

Right tackle Rick Wagner had a solid season in 2014, but his overall performance dropped off in 2015 because of recurring foot problems. So far, Wagner, entering his fourth year, has done well in the preseason but it's unclear if he'll continue to have more foot issues.

Left guard John Urschel, in his third season, has never been a regular in the starting lineup. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley is a rookie and the team's top pick out of Notre Dame.

He has size and athleticism, but few players make an easy transition from the college game to the pros, particularly at left tackle. Plus, with so little experience on that side, Urschel and Stanley will see a lot of games and stunts from the opposition, especially when the Ravens open the season against Buffalo on Sept. 11 in Baltimore. Bills head coach (and former Ravens defensive coordinator) Rex Ryan loves to bring pressure, and he will definitely try to confuse Urschel and Stanley.

The Ravens can give Stanley some help by chipping with a running back or double teaming with a tight end. Overall, this is an athletic group that relies on finesse.

But the big problem for the Ravens will come in short-yardage situations. Simply put, they just don't have enough power to get movement off the ball. They run a West Coast offense with a downhill running game, which means offensive linemen need to get to a spot and don't have to hold blocks long.

But in every NFL game, at some point, offenses have to convert on third- or fourth-and-short situations to win the game or maintain control.

It's also interesting listening to all of this talk about the Ravens passing game. Like most fans in this city, I'm eager to see this passing game Saturday night against the Detroit Lions.

Is the Flacco-to-Mike Wallace deep connection going to happen? I want to see Steve Smith catching short passes over the middle and then turning them into 15-yard gains. I want to know if tight end Ben Watson can still contribute or if fellow tight end Dennis Pitta will ever play in a game again.


But if the Ravens can't keep Flacco standing in the pocket and open holes for running backs like Justin Forsett and Terrance West, it's going to be a long season. Football is a game that changes, but the basics don't.

If you can't win at the line of scrimmage, you can't win consistently at all.