Kelechi Osemele made his NFL debut at left tackle Sunday, adding a new position to his professional resume after debuting at right tackle and growing over the past two seasons into one of the league’s most impactful left guards.
With three games left before he hits free agency, Osemele relished the chance to play left tackle, both now and possibly long-term for the Ravens.
Coach John Harbaugh said the lineup, which featured Osemele replacing reserve left tackle James Hurst and Ryan Jensen taking Osemele’s left guard spot, was built to field the most talented offensive line possible.
“The idea is for our best five guys to be out there,” Harbaugh said. “That gives us a chance to do that. I think he can be a left tackle. He has played in college. … We’ll see how it looks.
The plan, which was in the works all week, was prompted by Hurst’s struggles in place of Week 1 starter Eugene Monroe, who was placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury Saturday.
Monroe has made just six starts this season, and 17 in the past two years. After Hurst allowed several debilitating hits on quarterback Matt Schaub in last week’s loss to the Miami Dolphins, the Ravens made the change.
Osemele started 38 games at left tackle at Iowa State, and played right tackle during the regular season of the 2012 Super Bowl season before a shakeup for the playoffs moved him to left guard. He was also a candidate to start at left tackle the following season, but Bryant McKinnie returned to the team and took that spot.
Osemele said this past week that Harbaugh and general manager-executive vice president Ozzie Newsome approached him and said “they felt that this was the best way to go.”
He said he “wasn’t quite sure” he’d be able to get the technique down — tackle requires a bit more finesse and technique, physicality is depended on inside — but “the more sets I took out there, the more it started coming back.”
Osemele and Harbaugh said he’d need to consult the film to evaluate the lineman's play, but Harbaugh said nothing negative jumped out. Right tackle Rick Wagner said it was “pretty cool to see [Osemele] and Ryan [Jensen] running down the field, destroying guys.”
“We can’t control everything, but we can control our effort and our physicality,” Wagner said. “We’ve had a lot of guys come in and out throughout the year, so that’s something we wanted to keep consistent.”
Quarterback Jimmy Clausen was sacked once, on a scramble play for no loss, though he was hit 11 times. The Ravens also struggled to run the ball, gaining 14 yards on 28 carries, a figure boosted by a 17-yard run by Terrance West (Towson, Northwestern High) late in the game.
Those struggles, however, were just as much a credit to the Seahawks defensive front.
Osemele, now in his fourth season, said he believes he can handle the responsibilities of being a left tackle in the NFL. It’s a new consideration for him and the rest of the league as he enters free agency, but it’s also an avenue through which he could return to the Ravens.
He declined to talk about any of the conversations he and the Ravens have had privately, but it seems him returning as the starting left tackle is a consideration.
“I sure hope so,” he said. “I would definitely love to be the guy for the Ravens into the future, as long as I can keep performing at a high level.”