Preston: Adding Maclin was smart, but Ravens need to bolster offensive line to make the move pay off

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome was leaving the practice field Tuesday when a reporter asked him whether the team was going to pursue any offensive linemen soon or wait until after the preseason started.

Newsome shrugged his shoulders but indicated the team is always in the market to improve the roster regardless of the time of year. But one day after filling the team's biggest offseason need and acquiring wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, the Ravens still have to find a right offensive tackle and center.


Maclin should be productive in the offense. He is a good route runner and can make plays in both the intermediate and long passing games. When it comes to trash-talking, he is right up there with former Ravens receivers Steve Smith and Derrick Mason.

He plays with an edge and is great as far as working in the community. Combined with speedster Mike Wallace, the Ravens now have a good one-two punch. But the passing game will be less productive if the Ravens don't improve on the offensive line.

It was scary Tuesday on the first day of minicamp as the Ravens starting offensive line consisted of right tackle James Hurst, right guard Ryan Jensen and center John Urschel. Of course Pro Bowl performer Marshal Yanda will start at right guard once the 2017 season begins, but that still doesn't create a feeling of confidence, much less comfort.

In the past Newsome has always been patient and resolved these situations, but it's different this time. There is a surplus of wideouts in the NFL, but it's hard to find good linemen.

Look around the league. Every team has a weakness, and most have it on the offensive line, with the notable exceptions of the Dallas Cowboys and the Oakland Raiders. Even Newsome concedes that there isn't a lot of top talent left on the free-agent market.

There is a good chance the Ravens will make another serious run at former New York Jets center Nick Mangold. The 12-year veteran isn't as dominant as he once was, but is serviceable and better than Urschel, who, like his predecessor Jeremy Zuttah, isn't physical at the point of attack.

Mangold isn't in a rush to attend minicamps or training camp, so that gives the Ravens more opportunity to better evaluate Urschel and ample time to sign Mangold. Mangold, though, won't come cheaply even though his top-dollar days are behind him.

The Ravens also have the option of moving Yanda to right tackle, which would give them two good bookend players, with Ronnie Stanley at left tackle. The Ravens could also play the wait-and-see game with young tackles such as De'Ondre Wesley and Stephane Nembot, but Wesley is too slow and Nembot, a second-year player, might be another year away.

There is too much uncertainty among this group, and it is evident with Urschel, Jensen and Hurst constantly switching positions in the various organized team activities. It is good to have versatility, but offensive line play is built around continuity and rhythm, not musical chairs.

The Ravens brought in offensive assistant Greg Roman to improve the running game, but that might not be possible. The Ravens aren't strong off the ball and don't get movement at the line of scrimmage. They have tight ends who spend more time in the training room than on the practice fields, and they don't have a proven fullback.

Before the Ravens agreed to terms with Maclin there was uncertainty about how much this team had improved from the one that finished 8-8 a year ago. There is no longer any doubt.

The Ravens upgraded the secondary with the free-agent acquisitions of cornerback Brandon Carr and safety Tony Jefferson. They put youth back in the defense through the draft with the selections of cornerback Marlon Humphrey, linebackers Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser, and defensive lineman Chris Wormley.

The addition of Maclin puts life back into the offense, and if the Ravens can sign free-agent wide receiver Eric Decker, then they could be on to something. But before they get to that point, they have to make an upgrade in one more area.

As much as football has changed through the years, it still remains the same. The line is the foundation of the offense. If this group can't block, you can't run. If you can't run, then it's hard to pass, regardless of whether Joe Flacco is the quarterback or Maclin, Decker and Wallace are the receivers.


Newsome still has some work to do.