As Ravens left guard Alex Lewis slowly walked off the field with his uniform and hair soaked in perspiration, it appeared he was going to have a long face from a very, very long day.
About 90 minutes into a joint practice that lasted over two hours Monday, it was clear that the Los Angeles Rams defense had gotten the better of the Ravens offense at “The Castle.”
For the most part, the Ravens couldn’t run and they couldn’t pass. Lewis, left tackle Ronnie Stanley and right guard James Hurst played reasonably well, but the offensive line got exposed in several areas.
Overall, though, Lewis was pleased.
“There were some good things, some bad things and some things we need to clean up,” said Lewis, a three-year veteran. “It was a good first day, and we’ll come back tomorrow to make improvement.”
It’s hard to get a true read on the Ravens offensive line. Because of injuries and inexperience, the group has been shuffled around in the preseason more than an old deck of cards.
By the end of Monday’s practice, it was apparent that the Ravens, who lack depth up front, have to stay injury-free this season. The Rams, who have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, had taught them some lessons.
Los Angeles has Ndamukong Suh, one of the best tackles in the league, and two specimens at end in starter Michael Brockers and rookie backup John Franklin-Myers. Fortunately for the Ravens, the Rams also were without their best lineman, tackle Aaron Donald. Otherwise, quarterback Joe Flacco’s feet would have been shuffling more in nervousness.
“It’s always nice going against somebody who doesn’t know your calls,” Lewis said. “Having them out there is a great thing for both teams, and both teams are going to get better on each side of the ball.”
“They have a great defensive line,” he added. “Suh is Suh, and the other guys are physical as well and like to bull-rush. They gave us a lot of good work.”
A year ago, the line faced similar concerns and was considered one of the weakest units on the team. But under offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris and tight ends coach and senior offensive assistant Greg Roman, both new hires, the Ravens emphasized a downhill-running approach.
They finished with the No. 11 ground game in the NFL, averaging 116 yards per game, and that was without Lewis and Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, who missed a combined 30 games because of injuries.
Yanda, out for 14 games with a season-ending ankle injury, also had shoulder surgery during the offseason. He practiced for about 30 minutes Monday, stretching and doing individual drills. The Ravens expect him to be ready for their Sept. 9 season opener against the Buffalo Bills.
Until then, the Ravens will continue to shuffle Lewis, center Matt Skura and Hurst along the line. If the Ravens had to start the season today, their top group would consist of Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. at tackle, Hurst and Lewis at guard and Skura at center.
When asked whether the jumping around had slowed the unit’s progress with its timing, Lewis just smiled.
“I couldn’t tell you that,” he said. “That is above my pay grade.”
Brown had a similar response.
“That is more on the coaches,” Brown said. “I am worried about fine-tuning my game and helping this team be the best it can be. I am a rookie, listening and learning as much as possible. I have a long ways to go.”
Brown, a rookie, has to improve technically. He needs to bend better at the knees, and he has a tendency to get overextended, which causes problems against speed rushers.
Otherwise, the Ravens’ first unit should be good. But there are questions about the backups, who struggled Thursday against the Chicago Bears in their preseason opener (eight sacks allowed overall).
Second-year guard Nico Siragusa struggled Monday and hasn’t had the same quickness he did before having major knee surgery a year ago. Second-year guard-tackle Jermaine Eluemunor lacks consistency and might be another year away from becoming a long-term replacement or possible starter.
In the NFL, a lot of teams have weak offensive lines. But some can compensate because of top talent at their skill positions. The Ravens don’t have that luxury. General manager Ozzie Newsome might have to sign a couple of free-agent offensive linemen before the opener, as he’s done in the past.
Meanwhile, the Ravens will get more lessons in hard knocks from the Rams, which can only help.
“It felt really good for me. It was some great competition, more of what you’re going to face week in, week out in this league,” Brown said. “That team has a great defensive front, great coaching staff, and it felt good to get out there and try some different things. We can only get better.”