Regardless of what offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden decides about retirement and what the team does in the NFL draft in a few weeks, Ravens offensive line coach Chris Foerster already knows that the 2007 season will be one of transition.
The team's starting left guard, Jason Brown, is going into only his third season and was fortunate enough to start 12 of 16 games last season. Third-year player Adam Terry has started only two games and will play either right or left tackle, depending on Ogden's decision. Second-year center-guard Chris Chester was good enough last season for members of the team's personnel department to start asking questions about why he wasn't playing instead of center Mike Flynn or right guard Keydrick Vincent.
Ready or not, here comes the youth movement on the offensive line.
"I think this year will be different compared to last year, as far as the practices and learning," Foerster said. "We do have some young guys, but at least they have been around the system for at least a year. I think the transition will be quick."
One thing hasn't changed. The No. 1 concern among fans continues to be the offensive line. As a unit, the group proved itself as far as pass-blocking, allowing quarterback Steve McNair to be sacked only 17 times. But the running game struggled. The Ravens were ranked 25th in the league, averaging 102.3 yards. Some critics pointed their fingers at running back Jamal Lewis, and others at the offensive line.
No matter, the group has to get better.
On paper, it's an interesting unit, certainly one more athletic than in previous years. Both Ogden and Terry are tall and agile. Despite their height, 6 feet 9 and 6-8, respectively, both have good bend in their knees to work leverage. All three guards - Brown, Vincent and Chester - have quick feet and are agile enough to make blocks at the second level of any defense.
But this starting group hasn't played together a lot.
"We're still looking at a lot of things," Foerster said. "We've already spent a lot of time studying Willis McGahee to see what he does differently than Jamal, and how we can all help each other. We have to look at the loss of [fullback] Ovie Mughelli and see what kind of impact that will have. We don't know what we will get in the draft, so we still have decisions to make about personnel and strategy."
Of course, Ogden remains the biggest question. He's expected to make his decision before the draft. Until then, the team probably isn't sure whether it will take an offensive tackle in the draft. With Ogden's decision looming, so is the starting position for Terry.
If Ogden retires, Terry would play left tackle. If he doesn't, he would be the right tackle. It makes a big difference, even though Terry has played both positions with the Ravens. At Syracuse, he was on the left side.
"Obviously, the footwork is the biggest difference between the two positions," Foerster said. "We've always liked Adam Terry and the way he has played. He's a tough guy, athletic, light on his feet. But at 6-8 and 320 pounds, he can get under you and has power. He's a hard worker and diligent.
"The only problem with Adam is that we've had to play him at two positions. When you have a veteran like J.O., you're only going to give him so much work in training camp, and we didn't even have him in much of camp last year. So, you had to get Terry reps on the left side. Adam never competed for the starting job on the right side because he never got the time to work there."
It's different with Brown. When starting guard Edwin Mulitalo went down for the season with a torn triceps in the fourth game, Brown replaced him and played well. He lacked the raw, initial power of Mulitalo, but had better movement. He also has more potential and was less injury-prone, reasons the Ravens cut Mulitalo this offseason.
"Jason is tough, very physical and hardworking," Foerster said. "He is one of our better pass protectors. He has a good, low center of gravity."
Chester could use some of Brown's bulk. At 305 pounds, he looks like an oversized tight end or fullback. He has the quickest feet of any lineman on the team. He played well filling in for Vincent at times last season, so well that some of the team's draft experts would like to see him in the starting lineup.
But unless he adds some weight, it's highly unlikely that Chester could play the season without getting tired or hurt by the end of the year. But Chester - along with Brown and Terry - gives the Ravens athleticism they haven't had before. The Ravens have always liked mauling, road-paving types of offensive linemen going back to the days of former coach Ted Marchibroda.
Coach Brian Billick has always had a straight-ahead power-running game, too. But Billick is willing to change that approach. According to Foerster, it was Billick who changed the pass-protection scheme last season. The running game might change as well with the addition of McGahee and a young offensive line.
"We haven't yet decided. I'm not sure what's going to happen, but I anticipate at least some slight changes," Foerster said.