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Preston: Ravens’ lack of depth on offensive line still in question

Everyone within the Ravens organization wants to see Lamar Jackson improve as a passer in his second year as quarterback, but they should be thankful he can run.

And run and run and run.

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There is a good chance he will be doing a lot of that this season, though not by design. There were already questions about the Ravens’ depth this season on the offensive line and it was clearly evident Thursday night in preseason game No. 3 against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Forget the score.

Head coach John Harbaugh said before the game that he wanted to see a lot of the young players perform, and that’s true to a degree. But the Ravens were without three injured starters on the offensive line, including guards Marshal Yanda and Jermaine Eluemunor and left tackle Ronnie Stanley.

Yanda’s foot injury is not a major concern because he has a strong threshold for pain and is one of the toughest players in the NFL. He’ll play just about under any conditions. Stanley’s durability has been an area of concern since he entered the NFL four years ago and the extent of what is believed to be an ankle injury is not known.

Eluemunor is starting at left guard only because the Ravens have few other options and he still hasn’t established himself, including a failed conditioning test to open training camp. His injury? Unknown.

So Thursday night, the Ravens started Orlando Brown Jr. and James Hurst at tackle, rookie Ben Powers and Bradley Bozeman at guard and Matt Skura at center.

Ooh, I bet the Eagles were afraid.

The only person more scared was Harbaugh, who decided not to play Jackson. You can’t blame him. Would you play your franchise quarterback behind this group? Backup quarterback Robert Griffin III probably took a hammer to his thumb to aggravate his injury for a few more days because he couldn’t have wanted to play either. It just adds to the fodder that preseason games are becoming worthless and team scrimmages mean more.

During this entire preseason, everyone wanted to know about how much Jackson improved or the impact of speedy rookie receivers Marquise Brown or Miles Boykin on the passing game. But the offensive line is still questionable.

A year ago, the Ravens performed well in the running game with one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL. It’s not a big, powerful group that will knock defensive linemen off the ball, but it’s a downhill running game built around initial contact by the linemen and one cut, get-up-the-field acceleration by running backs.

But if the Ravens got behind in games, the offensive line struggled because of poor pass protection. Now, imagine if the Ravens, who already have subpar play at left guard, lost Yanda or Stanley for extended time? Hurst is a good stopgap player but eventually will get exploited. Brown still has problems with speed rushers and Skura isn’t physical at the point of attack.

If the Ravens lose two or three of their offensive linemen, you might see more of what we saw Thursday night, when the Ravens went to running three receivers to the left or three receivers to the right during one formation.

Jackson has to improve as a passer, but be glad he can run. On Thursday night, Ravens starting quarterback Trace McSorley didn’t have the speed to turn the corner on option plays. That wouldn’t be a problem for Jackson.

When McSorley ran waggles and bootlegs under duress, he couldn’t pull away from the Eagles, even though he managed a tough 4-yard touchdown run around right end early in the second quarter. Jackson blows away defenders, especially when he gets his shoulder pads squared at the line of scrimmage.

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There are some things to like with this Ravens offense. Running back Mark Ingram II was a good find in free agency and backup Gus Edwards is a big asset. Tight end Mark Andrews has played well all through the preseason and training camp, and the Ravens added some speed, even though Boykin and Brown have had health issues. McSorley continues to impress, but he can’t do what Jackson can do, especially with this offensive line.

Thank goodness Jackson can run.

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