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Ravens' 'O' line has new look, throwback feel

Not since the days of Tony Jones, Steve Everitt and Jeff Blackshear has there been so much potential on the Ravens' offensive line. Back then, linemen such as Wally Williams and Orlando Brown were about to enter the prime of their careers, and Jonathan Ogden was still a pup.

A decade later, and six days away from the first training camp practice, the Ravens appear to have the perfect blend of offensive linemen. They have great veteran leadership in Pro Bowl left tackle Ogden and center Mike Flynn. They have Jason Brown, a left guard who could have a breakthrough season in his third year. They have two promising young players in starting right guard Chris Chester and right tackle Adam Terry, and two solid backup guards who have ample playing experience in Keydrick Vincent and Brian Rimpf.

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And, oh, what a good-looking bunch of rookies.

Guard Ben Grubbs, the first-round draft pick out of Auburn, has Pro Bowl potential, and tackles Marshal Yanda (Iowa) and Jared Gaither (Maryland) have a lot of promise, as well.

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Will that translate into victories? No, not now, but it could in the future.

You build teams through the offensive and defensive lines, and the Ravens seem to have a strong foundation. When they selected Gaither in the fifth round of the NFL supplemental draft last week, it was a steal because they might have gotten Ogden's eventual replacement.

Yes, Gaither could be that good - if he doesn't become a head case.

And, just as important, Gaither is athletic, just like Chester, Brown and Grubbs. For years, the Ravens seemed to be behind the times, actually failing to capitalize on a trend they started in the 2000 season when they put two big tackles, Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams, in the middle of their defense and forced teams to run outside.

Even though the Ravens forced the change, they never made the change offensively themselves. They continued to pound running back Jamal Lewis inside the tackles behind a big, physical offensive line. But after last season, when Lewis became a step slower and the team had the NFL's 25th-ranked running game, the Ravens decided to make a change.

To keep pace with the other top contenders, they changed their look. The power running game is out, and finesse is in.

The Ravens cut Lewis and acquired running back Willis McGahee in a trade with the Buffalo Bills. McGahee is expected to be a more versatile runner who can attack the perimeter. The Ravens also added more athletic offensive linemen who can make an impact at the point of attack but also can get into the second level to block linebackers.

All the pieces are in place; now we have to wait for the game plan. That's a little scary.

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We've been here before. We've heard talk before about adding sweeps, traps, screens and misdirection plays. Then, once the season started, we all yawned because it was the same old offense.

We tried to steal a look at the running game during the offseason minicamps, but those camps were structured more for the passing game. So on Monday morning, the new running game will be unveiled, and there is something to get excited about. If the Ravens had a running game last season, they might have advanced to the AFC championship game instead of being bounced by the Indianapolis Colts in the second round.

With this group, the Ravens have a lot of options. Although Chester is starting at guard, the Ravens would like him to replace Flynn before the end of this season. Flynn has the advantage now because he knows the offense better and can make the proper calls, but Chester seems destined to take his spot. Grubbs eventually will start at right guard. You don't draft a player in the first round to sit him on the bench. Plus, this kid has all the tools. Yanda is listed as the No. 2 right tackle going into training camp, but he'll eventually move to guard. Those short arms make him a liability at tackle, especially when it comes to leverage.

Any combination is possible because this group is so versatile and athletic. With the exception of Ogden, you can lose any one of them at this point without much drop-off in production.

It's a group that can bring back memories and hope from the team's early days in Baltimore. Finally, the Ravens have an offensive line that has the potential to be just as good as that group.

mike.preston@baltsun.com


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