New kids on blocks Ravens' hit so far

The Baltimore Sun

As they dressed near each other and filed out of the locker room, they had a sense of accomplishment, but not completion. It's only two games into the NFL season, but the unit with the most questions about it entering the 2008 season has performed well.

And the offensive line isn't about to quit.

"We're young and hard-working guys," Ravens center Jason Brown said. "We're never going to feel that we have arrived. We're going to come back next week and prepare just as hard for the Steelers. We have to stay humble; that's a key to success."

OK, they can stay humble, but the linemen have been good, and they keep getting better. The Ravens' wins have come against teams that have a combined record of 0-6, but in this season of rebuilding, you look for things to build on in the future.

As far as the offensive line, it has made significant progress from the beginning of training camp, when it was soft and had no clue. In the Ravens' 28-10 win against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, the Ravens did exactly what they need to do if they're going to win games in 2008. They rushed for 151 yards, and they held more than a 15-minute advantage in time of possession.

With a successful running game, the Ravens used a lot of play-action passes, which kept pressure off rookie quarterback Joe Flacco (one sack). And maybe most of all, this group knows how to finish. The Ravens held the ball for more than 13 minutes in the fourth quarter, pounding the Browns into submission.

"You could see it out there. After the first few drives, they [the Browns] were on their knees, and we just continued to pound on them," Ravens left tackle Jared Gaither said.

Very few fans appreciate offensive line play, but this was pretty to watch. At times, the Ravens looked like the 1960s Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s by pulling two offensive linemen on a pitch around the corner.

They ran a cute little counter, or cross-blocking, play where Brown and left guard Ben Grubbs crossed. It was to take advantage of angles and the Ravens' athleticism instead of trying to root the Browns out with sheer power.

This wasn't a bad Cleveland defensive line. The Browns had some big, beefy players up front in tackle Shaun Rogers and end Corey Williams. But by midway through the third quarter, you could feel the energy leaving the Browns and the momentum shifting toward the Ravens.

Grubbs, Brown and right guard Marshal Yanda were blasting the Browns 6 or 7 yards downfield. Gaither was dominating, playing his best game as a pro. Grubbs, Yanda and Gaither are in only their second year.

"I think we just put our head down, went to work and started chopping wood," right offensive tackle Adam Terry said. "I don't think we're there yet. We're doing OK, and so far, so good. But if you look around the league, the good teams are solid in all aspects. We're not there yet."

The Ravens started finding their groove in the last preseason game when the first group started for the first time. Gaither and Terry had gone down with ankle injuries during the first week of training camp, so the group had little time to work together.

But now, you can see the timing coming together in such things as combination blocks. They are using their hands better, and they actually know where they are going.

The group has also been helped by the game-planning. Sunday, the heavy package included not only bringing in fullback Lorenzo Neal as the lead blocker and moving fullback Le'Ron McClain to halfback, but also inserting offensive tackle Willie Anderson next to Gaither.

It's impressive when you can bring two Pro Bowl players - Neal and Anderson - off the bench.

"Our job is to execute," Gaither said, "because defenses do not know what they're going to get."

Adding Anderson gave the Ravens an on-the-field teacher as well as depth. The Ravens lost a lot of experience when left tackle Jonathan Ogden and center Mike Flynn retired during the offseason.

One of Brown's first visits when he comes off the field is to Anderson.

"He hasn't been in our offense that long," Brown said. "But he sees and reads defenses better than me. It's great having him on the field."

According to several of the linemen, one of the keys to the offense is the no-huddle approach. It creates such a torrid pace that other teams can't keep up, especially early in the season when some teams are in better shape than others.

Brown said the Ravens are in full gear on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and that's more than most teams in the NFL. Against Cleveland on Sunday, the Ravens' offensive line played well from the beginning, but Matt Stover missed a 48-yard field-goal attempt and Flacco threw two interceptions.

But the Ravens did move the ball. And the final quarter was superb, nearly 15 minutes of smash-mouth football.

"He showed a lot of confidence in us during that last period," Terry said about offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. "The good thing is that he is still getting to know us, and we're still getting to know him."

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