Top pick expands Ravens' running game

The Baltimore Sun

Fans are buzzing in Oakland this morning because they got a strong-armed quarterback in LSU's JaMarcus Russell. Cleveland got two sexy picks in the first round in Wisconsin offensive tackle Joe Thomas and Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn.

And all the Ravens came away with in the first round was a guard out of Auburn named Ben Grubbs.

If Quinn pans out in Cleveland, the Ravens might be in trouble in the future. But overall, despite having the No. 29 pick in the first round, the Ravens came away with a major addition to their team. The selection doesn't sound exciting, especially after waiting about five hours for the Ravens to make it. But let's put it all in perspective.

If you want to win games in the NFL, you win at the line of scrimmage. We all know it's a quarterback-driven league, mainly because they touch the ball on every play, but it all starts on the offensive line. If you look at the Ravens, they should have at least a decent one this season, and a good one in the future.

They've already got some good, young promising players like guard Jason Brown, center-guard Chris Chester and right tackle Adam Terry. And now they have Grubbs, generally rated one of the top two guards in college football. There may not have been a lot of applause here by fans in Baltimore, but it was a good pick.

It could have been worse. You could be a Miami fan this morning with Ohio State receiver Ted Ginn Jr. as your first-round pick, the No. 9 selection overall.

"You want them as big as you can get them," said Ravens offensive line coach Chris Foerster of the 6-3, 314-pound Grubbs. "You want them big, but they've got to be athletic guys, able to pull and run. You still want them big where you can play power football, but the more athletic they are, the more things you can do."


And that's been a major problem with the Ravens. For years, they've subscribed to power football because they had a big back in Jamal Lewis, and big, plodding offensive linemen. Those big guys could power straight ahead, but they couldn't pull, and struggled with pass blocking.

But times have changed, or at least it appears that way. On paper, newly acquired running back Willis McGahee is at least a slight improvement over Lewis, and certainly more versatile. McGahee is more of a slasher and capable of running more tosses, sweeps and screens.

And for those kinds of plays, you need quick linemen who can run and make blocks in the second level of a defense. That's Grubbs. For a team that was ranked No. 25 in rushing offense, which eventually led to its downfall in the postseason, Grubbs is a viable solution.

"He is big and has good balance," Foerster said. "When he anchors on pass protection, he can shut a person down. When in the open field, he is able to gather himself and make open-field blocks. He is on his feet constantly, and works extremely hard."

The book on Grubbs is that he is a mauler with athleticism. He has the speed to pull and lead outside runs, and gets set quickly in pass protection. He reads and stymies blitzes and stunts well, and is extremely smart. The downside is that he is inconsistent with technique, and allows defensive linemen to get into his body.

Technique problems can be remedied with proper coaching. In the case of Grubbs, there is no need to rush him into the starting lineup. The Ravens already have Keydrick Vincent as the starting right guard with Brian Rimpf as a backup. But it won't be long before Grubbs starts. Yes, he has that kind of talent.

And how about this for a starting lineup a year from now? Jonathan Ogden, Brown, Chester at center, Grubbs and Terry.

It could become a talented offensive line. And if the Ravens add a quality offensive tackle next season in the draft to possibly replace Ogden when he retires, then they're set for years.

The Ravens could have had a sexier pick. They thought about trading up for Quinn, but they weren't very serious. How could they be? When you have a track record of failing with quarterbacks, you don't take a risk like Quinn in the first round.

The Ravens almost had Central Michigan offensive tackle Joe Staley. Make no mistake, they wanted him more than Grubbs, but the 49ers made a trade with New England to pick Staley right before the Ravens. The Ravens were disappointed, but they got to choose among players they rated high like Grubbs, USC center Ryan Kalil, and guards Justin Blalock of Texas and Arron Sears of Tennessee.

They were fortunate Grubbs didn't go earlier.

"I was surprised," Foerster said, "but the run on defensive players was so extensive in the first round that some of these offensive guys got pushed down. If it had been more balance - offensive vs. defensive guys - these guys wouldn't have made it down to this point. I don't think any of these guys would believe that there would be two tackles taken early, and then there would be this huge drought before two more linemen were taken."

It all worked out fairly well. The Ravens didn't create a buzz around town like the Browns or Detroit, but they didn't have to. A lot of times teams that create a lot of excitement have to because they finished near the bottom the year before.

The Ravens' major priority this offseason was to improve their running game. They did yesterday with Grubbs, who was safe and a good addition to a team that needs his help.

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