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Ravens' offensive line picture remains muddled because of injuries, retirement

August 2, 2017 -- Ravens beat writer Jeff Zrebiec talks about the young offensive line and the many moving pieces on the line. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)

By the end of Wednesday's training camp practice, the Ravens' first-team offensive line consisted of James Hurst at left tackle, Alex Lewis at left guard, Matt Skura at center, Jermaine Eluemunor at right guard and Stephane Nembot at right tackle.

Only Lewis is projected to start the start the regular season at that spot. Hurst is expected to be the Ravens' starting right tackle. Skura, Eluemunor and Nembot have yet to play in an NFL regular-season game.

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Injuries and other roster losses have affected the Ravens at nearly every position, but their offensive line, arguably the team's biggest question mark entering camp, has been hit particularly hard. In position to compete for the starting center job, John Urschel retired just hours before the team's first practice last week. Rookie fourth-round guard Nico Siragusa tore up his left knee Tuesday. Starting right guard Marshal Yanda is only participating in individual drills as he continues his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery.

Regarding Colin Kaepernick and ESPN's report, Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome said, “We are going through a process, and we have not made a decision.”

"It's definitely hard to get continuity, especially with Marshal not being out here and still trying to figure out things on the O-line," starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley said Wednesday. "To gain some kind of chemistry is definitely going to be a challenge, but we expected that."

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Complicating matters Wednesday was Stanley sitting out the last 90 minutes of practice following a collision with Eluemunor and defensive end Brent Urban – he said later that he was fine – and projected starting center Ryan Jensen being held out after he tweaked his ankle. Undrafted rookie center Brandon Kublanow is also sidelined with an undisclosed injury.

"We had planned [that Tuesday] was the day to start moving guys. I think you saw Alex go to right tackle and you saw James go to left tackle. Nico was getting reps at center. When you do that, guys get reps with different groups," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said following Wednesday's practice. "That was part of the plan, but I also think what has compounded it have been the injuries. We've probably had to do more of that than we want just to make sure we can get through practice and we can run the plays. But in the end, it's good for guys to get work at other spots."

All the outside attention is on the Ravens flirtation with free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick. However, the current priority for the front office is trying to add depth and experience to an offensive line that lacks both. The offseason trade of center Jeremy Zuttah and the free-agent loss of right tackle Rick Wagner left the Ravens with questions at both spots that were never fully answered. Now, they have depth issues at center and guard with Urschel and Siragusa not in the picture.

Their needs prompted the Ravens to try guard Jarrod Pughsley at center, a position he hasn't played since high school.

The Ravens have talked to other teams with a perceived logjam on the offense line about potential trades. There is also the free agent route, but they don't have a lot of salary cap space and there's not m uch available.

Free agent tackles Michael Oher and Austin Howard have injury questions. There's some question whether center Nick Mangold, who visited the Ravens earlier in the offseason, is 100 percent committed to playing. Guard/tackle Orlando Franklin was just released by the New Orleans Saints five days after they signed him.

"Whatever presents itself outside of our room, it happens. This is football. You're going to have injuries, you're going to have guys retire," said first-year Ravens offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris. "I only worry about the guys in my room each day and whoever comes in that room, I coach."

What the Ravens don't have beyond Yanda, a six-time Pro Bowl selection and one of the best guards in the sport, and Stanley, a 1st-round pick in 2016, are known commodities. The Ravens believe that Lewis has Pro Bowl-potential at left guard and they've staunchly defended the much-maligned Hurst.

Otherwise, eight of the 15 offensive linemen on the Ravens' roster have never played in an NFL game. Ten of the 15 have never started an NFL game.

Yanda and Hurst are the only two guys on the team with more than 12 career starts. Yanda's absence during the team drills has prompted Stanley, who has made a dozen career NFL starts, to take a vocal leadership role with his teammates.

"I do see myself helping out a lot of the other guys because I've played a lot more than a good amount of them," Stanley said.

The first week of camp, though, has been a struggle for many of the young offensive linemen. Undrafted tackles like Wesley, Nembot and Roubbens Joseph have had to line up against Terrell Suggs, Matthew Judon, Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams.

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In Wednesday's practice, Joseph, a rookie free agent out of Buffalo, had barely gotten out of his stance when Williams blew by him on the outside. The two went one-on-one again moments later, and Williams beat Joseph on the inside.

"These guys are all growing. This is training camp. This is installation time. A lot of material and information is given to them and they have to decipher through a lot of stuff," D'Alessandris said. "Our defense, as you very well know, is a very good defense. They present us a lot of problems and we have to try and cure those problems."

The Ravens' coaching staff is hopeful that this stretch will be beneficial down the road. They are getting good evaluations on some of their young offensive linemen who are getting a lot of repetitions against good competition.

Moving guys around is also increasing the versatility of some of the offensive linemen. Eluemunor, a rookie fifth-round right tackle, has been used at both guard spots as well. Skura, a 2016 undrafted free agent, is Jensen's main competition for the starting center job, but he's been the primary fill-in for Yanda at right guard.

I feel like if I'm going to be able to make this team, I've got to play more than one position, so getting all of these reps at right guard has really been helping me a lot to play center and recognize defenses a little bit differently," Skura said. "Playing with a right tackle is something that's new to me as well. So we're trying to create as much chemistry as we can."

Staff writer Edward Lee contributed to this article

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