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Admitting it's a 'big hit,' Ravens push forward without Marshal Yanda, their best offensive lineman

Ravens G/C Tony Bergstrom talks about coming in the Browns game after Marshal Yanda season ending injury. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)

Standing near midfield during warmups before Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti asked his coach, John Harbaugh, a question that might not have seemed particularly timely at the moment.

Bisciotti inquired about reserve offensive guard-center Tony Bergstrom, whom the Ravens got from the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 1 for a conditional 2018 seventh-round pick. Harbaugh told Bisciotti that Bergstrom was looking good in practice but that the 31-year-old was still a bit of an unknown to the coaches because they hadn't seen him play in a game.

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By late Sunday afternoon, that had changed. By early Monday, as the 2-0 team began preparations for Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1) in London, Bergstrom had suddenly become a pivotal player for the Ravens, who will be without Marshal Yanda, the best offensive lineman on the team and perhaps the best guard in all of football.

Yanda fractured his left ankle in Sunday's 24-10 win over the Browns and Harbaugh has pronounced him out for the season with Bergstrom the likely replacement for the six-time Pro Bowl selection. Harbaugh said Monday that Yanda will have surgery and will need plates inserted to repair the ankle.

"He had a couple things in there he had to deal with. Yeah, he was really disappointed," Harbaugh said of Yanda. "Suffice to say, it was hard. It was a tough one for him. As tough as it is for the team and all of us, the thing you have to keep in mind is how tough it is for the player; the individual that has to go through, that's the one who suffers the most adversity.

"A guy like Marshal Yanda pours his heart and soul into the game. He's going to need everybody's support. He's got a great family. He even said in his text to me [Sunday] night that he'll be back better than ever."

The loss of Yanda, who has missed just five games over the previous eight seasons, puts even more pressure on an offensive line that has been flux since the offseason when the Ravens traded starting center Jeremy Zuttah and lost starting right tackle Rick Wagner in free agency.

On the eve of training camp, starting center candidate John Urschel abruptly retired. Starting left guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) and rookie fourth-round guard Nico Siragusa then sustained season-ending injuries during camp.

"Losing one of the leaders of our offense and the whole team in general, it's definitely a big hit to the team," left tackle Ronnie Stanley said after Sunday's game. "But we know that football, it has to go on. I know Marshal would say the same thing. We've got to keep pushing forward."

Yanda's injury, though, registers as more than just the loss of another starter on the offensive line. He had been instrumental in helping starting right tackle Austin Howard's transition to the Ravens and in Ryan Jensen's maturation as a starting center. He also is a member of Harbaugh's leadership council and a trusted voice and motivator in the locker room.

"It's tough emotionally," Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson said after Sunday's game. "Even before I came here, everybody in the league knows about Marshal, how special he is, his excellence on the offensive line, and the way guys gravitate towards him, the leader that he is. So it's definitely going to hurt.

"Football is a team game; we're going to put 11 on the field, and someone is going to play. The train never stops, but emotionally, when a guy like that goes down, it's definitely going to be tough to move forward. But the reality is, we have games we're going to play."

Bergstrom played the final two quarters when Yanda went out and Harbaugh said Monday that after settling in following the first couple of plays, Bergstrom played well.

"The whole offensive line played extremely well," Harbaugh said. "When you go back and watch it, it's the early season, but it's the best they've played to date."

Assuming the plan remains for Bergstrom to get the first crack at the right guard spot, Bergstrom will make his first start Sunday since Dec. 6, 2015, when he started at center for the Oakland Raiders. Bergstrom started three games at center for the Raiders in 2015 and one game at right guard for Oakland in 2012.

"It's kind of what my career has been, just always being ready," Bergstrom said Sunday. "I prepare the same way and watch all the same film and maybe get a few more reps at practice now, which should be nice. They have a process here and you believe in the process and respect the process."

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Asked about how difficult it is to replace a player like Yanda, Bergstrom said: "Are you asking are there big shoes to fill? Yeah. These size 14 boots don't even compare with the shoes you've got to fill with him."

The Ravens, though, predictably leaned on the "next man up" mantra. And Bergstrom is that next man. The Ravens' other options to fill that position include moving Jensen to right guard and inserting Luke Bowanko, who was also acquired in a post-preseason trade, at center; starting rookie fifth-round pick Jermaine Eluemunor, who has been inactive in the first two games; or promoting guard-center Matt Skura from the practice squad and thrusting him into a front-line role.

There's also the possibility of making an outside addition, but the Ravens' abbreviated schedule this week because of the London week complicates that.

"This game is all about adapting to change. It can happen at any moment, and we're used to that. But, man, what a guy," Howard said of Yanda. "He's super tough, and to see him go down was shocking at first. You think he can fight through anything, and we're so saddened to have him go down. We know we're praying for him, his family, his wife, his kids. We know it's a scary thing for them, and we wish him the best."

Howard, though, played with Bergstrom in Oakland and said he'll be able to do the job.

"He only got here a week-and-a-half or two weeks ago, and that's not a lot of time," Howard said. "He's capable of coming out and getting through the week and focusing in on all the details to get ready for the game."­­­

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