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Marshal Yanda was a throwback, and last of Ravens’ tough guys | COMMENTARY

The Ravens probably had to persuade Marshal Yanda to attend what is expected to be his farewell news conference Wednesday.

After 13 years in the NFL, the likely Hall of Fame guard is saying goodbye, even though the former Iowa farm boy preferred fishing in Minnesota or Michigan than being in the media limelight. He was a true offensive lineman who just liked to play and grind.

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As Yanda says goodbye, it’s like the end of an era. In recent seasons, there has been criticism of the Ravens for lacking impact players and tough guys.

And until some new players and personalities emerge on the roster, Yanda is the last of the tough guys, a throwback to the days of offensive linemen Orlando Brown Sr., Jeff Blackshear and defensive linemen Rob Burnett, Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams.

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He was of that vintage, but a better player. There is the story about how Yanda as a rookie took a $600 bet from his teammates that he could get tased and not feel significant effects.

Yanda won.

But there weren’t many other stories because there wasn’t a lot to tell. Yanda didn’t talk a lot, he just performed. There were times when he played with broken bones in his ankle, elbow or hands, and he never said a word.

The only time Yanda ever got surly with reporters was when we pressed him with questions about injuries. Even then he’d just be quiet instead of providing answers.

Yanda played in 177 games and started 166. That in itself is remarkable. He is one of only 13 players in league history to earn at least eight Pro Bowl selections as a guard, and of those, only Yanda, Larry Allen and Alan Faneca won Super Bowls.

Both Allen and Faneca are in the Hall of Fame and Yanda will probably get there one day, but not during his first year of eligibility. I always watch offensive line play. Yanda was great, but nothing exceptional like former Raven and Hall of Fame tackle Jonathan Ogden.

Allen was special because he was so strong and powerful at the point of attack and he could simply overwhelm defensive linemen. Gene Upshaw, the late Oakland Raiders guard who was inducted in 1987, was special because he could run well and make blocks deep into the second level.

Yanda had no specialty, but he could do it all. Unlike offensive tackles who are visible on the line of scrimmage, it’s hard to see the work of interior linemen like guards and centers. But Yanda could beat opponents with power or finesse. He had strength and nastiness, two ideal elements for an offensive lineman.

Yanda’s departure will free up $7 million in salary cap space and the Ravens had to be prepared for his departure. Throughout last season, Yanda and his family were conducting farewell tours after virtually every home and away game.

It will be hard to replace him, just like filling the voids left by Hall of Famers Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and Ogden. It was great to see Reed and Lewis leave the Ravens after winning the Super Bowl in 2012, and just as sad to see the Ravens lose to the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round because it was Yanda’s last game.

As close as Yanda was to former Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, his spirit seemed rejuvenated under second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson. I never imagined Yanda would give a pregame “boomalacher” like Lewis, but he did several times last season. He was coach John Harbaugh’s eyes and ears in the locker room, and he would give Harbaugh the pulse of the team.

The Ravens have several options in replacing Yanda. They could sign a free agent, draft an offensive lineman or go with a young player such as Ben Powers or Patrick Mekari.

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But it’s hard to replace greatness overnight. Sometimes, it takes a generation. Sometimes, it never happens at all.

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