Ravens running back Mark Ingram II took a handoff from quarterback Lamar Jackson at the Washington Football Team 1-yard line last Sunday and eased his way into the end zone, escorted by left guard Bradley Bozeman, who pulled on the play to create a running lane.
Bozeman gave Ingram a congratulatory slap on the helmet and Ingram responded by handing the ball to Bozeman to deliver a vicious spike, a sign of acknowledgment for one of the more unheralded pieces of the team’s offensive line.
In a position that’s often overlooked by most football watchers, Bozeman has performed like one of the best guards in the NFL, according to several metrics.
Four games into the regular season, Pro Football Focus has graded him as the sixth-best guard in the league, performing at a borderline Pro Bowl level. Bozeman hasn’t had a blown block in pass protection and just one in run blocking, according to Sports Info Solutions. In ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate, which measures how often linemen sustain their blocks for 2.5 seconds or longer, Bozeman ranks seventh among guards at 96%.
“I feel like I’m having a solid year but there’s some things that I really need to clean up,” Bozeman said Thursday. “There’s always things we can work on and get better at. I’m not where I want to be yet. We’re working there every day and trying to get to that point where hopefully I’m one of the best guards in the league. I’m prideful in that and I want to be at the top."
Ravens players and coaches are reluctant to publicly give any credence to such metrics. But while Ronnie Stanley has developed into one of the top tackles in the league, Bozeman himself has formed into a consistent guard on the left side. He played a key role in Jackson’s career-long 50-yard touchdown run against Washington, pulling from left to right to deliver a block on a linebacker 10 yards downfield that opened the floodgates for Jackson.
“He’s a smart guy, and he’s really starting to figure out how to play,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Thursday. "'Know thy self' is very important at any position, especially offensive line. So, him playing it within the framework of his game — that realization on his part on how to approach certain blocks, how to play certain guys that he’s going against — it just adds coats of paint to an offensive lineman’s profile.
“So, he’s on that journey, and he’s doing well. He’s rough, tough and physical, and that’s how we like them. And we just expect improvement all the time. When we work on something, we always want to get better at it, and that’s what he’s doing. So, I’m really pleased [with] where he’s at and looking forward to [what] he grows in to.”
Coach John Harbaugh on Monday called Bozeman a “gamer” and a “real legit starter in the league.” And still, there’s even more room for growth, Bozeman said, whether it be footwork or getting quicker off the line.
But it’s a step in the right direction for Bozeman, a 2018 sixth-round draft pick from Alabama, who won the starting left guard job to open the 2019 season and has started every game since.
After capping his first season as a starter in the NFL, Bozeman took a different path than most in the offseason: He embarked on a 17-state, cross-country anti-bullying tour alongside his wife, Nikki, in their 40-foot recreational vehicle. It was as unique as an offseason gets for an NFL player — Bradley brought workout gear with him and had to get “innovative” on the road, with makeshift workouts such as “picnic table, single-leg step-ups with weights,” while Nikki, also a standout basketball player at Alabama, kept him on track.
The tour was set to conclude in late March, but the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic forced the two to end about four stops shy of completing the trip. The pair had already purchased a house to live in for the 2020 season and upon returning back home to Maryland, the Bozemans sold the RV after living in it for about a year and a half. They ended up selling to another couple — Ravens fans, of course — and downsized to a less roomy, 25-foot RV. When the public health situation allows for it, the Bozemans hope to take the RV to Southern Maryland for several days and continue to visit local schools.
Now that the season is underway, the two partnered through their foundation, the Bradley and Nikki Bozeman Foundation, with Mt. Pleasant Ministries in Northeast Baltimore and Nourish Now, a nonprofit food bank, to stage food distribution events every other week. With the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols prohibiting in-person gatherings for players and team personnel, the Bozemans once again got creative. With assistance from Ravens community relations, they participated in the event virtually, watching from tablet screens fixed to mobile robots.
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It’s just another reminder of how tricky the season can be to navigate, not only on the field but off it, too.
“It was so easy, you logged in on your phone. Your phone turned into, almost like a controller,” Nikki said. "You could see everything around you, you could interact with people. So it kind of literally let us be there without being there.
“It’s really really cool, and we’re super excited for the possibility of that, whether it’s getting into these hospitals where the kids are sick and they’re not having any visitors or going to a virtual Halloween event with these robots.”
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Line: Ravens by 13