The Ravens have never started back-to-back seasons with the same offensive line alignment in franchise history, but that streak could be coming to an end.
In John Harbaugh's first seven seasons as the Ravens' coach, the team has had four different Week One starters at left tackle, three at left guard, four at center, two at right guard and five at right tackle.
Offensive line turnover has been a staple of the Ravens during their 19-plus years of existence, and a common occurrence in the NFL. The Ravens have never started back-to-back seasons with the same offensive line alignment, but that streak could be coming to an end.
If right tackle Rick Wagner (foot surgery in December) and center Jeremy Zuttah (hip surgery in February) continue to make progress in their rehabilitation, the Ravens will likely have the same starting offensive line for the Sept. 13 regular-season opener against the Denver Broncos that they had last September when they began the 2014 campaign against the Cincinnati Bengals.
That group, which also included Eugene Monroe at left tackle, Kelechi Osemele at left guard and Marshal Yanda at right guard, allowed quarterback Joe Flacco to be sacked a career-low 19 times and paved the way for Justin Forsett's career-high 1,266 rushing yards.
"It's pretty unusual, I guess, in today's football to have your whole offensive line back plus your backups, and we've got some competition for the spots to make the team and they're all good players," Harbaugh said Wednesday following the second day of the mandatory minicamp. "It's a big-time blessing. It's something that should help us be a really good football team and it's unusual."
With Wagner and Zuttah sidelined for this week's minicamp, the Ravens have been using John Urschel, who started five games at guard last season, as the starting center, and Jah Reid as the starting right tackle. James Hurst, an undrafted free agent who wound up starting seven games in 2014 in place of an injured Monroe, continues to be the top backup at left tackle.
But team officials are hopeful that both Wagner and Zuttah, who is already running and participating in walk-through practices, will be ready later this summer for training camp. And even if one of them isn't, the Ravens are confident they've built the necessary depth so that there wouldn't be any drop off.
Yanda said Tuesday that it "definitely feels" like the Ravens have more offensive line depth than they've ever had during his eight-year tenure.
"With the starting five and then 'Ursch' and Hurst, they have been doing a good job, and [offensive line coach Juan Castillo] has been doing a good job of developing them in the individual period. There are a lot of guys on the offensive line that can play football, not just the starters," Yanda said. "That's a credit to the organization getting the good guys in here."
Yanda knows all about the Ravens' offensive line turnover. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2010, Yanda has not only become the team's best offensive lineman — he's a four-time Pro Bowl selection — but also one of the group's few constants.
Michael Oher, who started at right tackle during his 2009 rookie season, essentially alternated every season from 2009 to 2013 between right and left tackle. Jared Gaither and Bryant McKinnie had uneven stints as the starting left tackles, while the right tackles that Yanda lined up next to during his Ravens' career included Adam Terry, Osemele and now Wagner. But this year may very well bring no changes.
"I think that provides stability as far as guys playing the same positions," Yanda said. "They're going to hopefully be more comfortable in their position and just become better players, because they get the reps and they keep getting the experience. I think that says something, and we should be really good."
While he was at Iowa State, Osemele dealt with constant shuffling along the offensive line, so his experiences his first three seasons with the Ravens have seemed minor in comparison. But that doesn't mean he doesn't welcome the stability.
"Continuity obviously is important when you are working as an offensive line because everybody has to move as one piece," Osemele said. "I feel like we're definitely going to have that with everybody coming back. … We're a tight-knit group and everybody is working with each other. We're looking forward to building on that in the future."
Last year's group thrived despite losing several starters for different stretches. Osemele missed two games with a knee injury. Monroe was sidelined for five regular-season games and didn't start either playoff contest because of knee/ankle injuries. Wagner, a revelation in his first year as a starter, missed the final regular-season game and both playoff contests.
But Osemele, another year removed from a significant back injury that ended his 2013 campaign, feels healthy and spent the offseason working on his mobility. His goal as he enters the final season before he's eligible for free agency is to make his first Pro Bowl team. Monroe, meanwhile, says that he has lowered his body fat and improved his stamina, and enters 2015 feeling like his best football is ahead of them.
"We have a great group," Monroe said. "We have everyone back, which is fortunate, so we're just looking to build and be better than we were last year. And I think we have the guys with the right attitude, the right work ethic [and] the right commitment to being great."
In recent days, there has been some debate around the league about whether the Philadelphia Eagles or the Dallas Cowboys have the best offensive line. Several of the Ravens' blockers were given an opportunity to promote their offensive line as the league's best and declined.
"I'm not much for words," Yanda said. "We'll do our talking in September when the games count. Obviously, that's running the football and protecting Joe, so I'm not getting into that. We'll let the pads do the talking."
Osemele, however, said he feels like everything is in place.