If there’s going to be an NFL season this year, it’ll have to start in training camp.
After an offseason upended by the coronavirus pandemic, the Ravens are scheduled to report to Owings Mills next Tuesday. Beyond that, little is known about the lead-up to their Sept. 13 season opener. How many players will the Ravens have on their camp roster? How many preseason games, if any, will they play? How could positive COVID-19 tests affect the team?
The NFL and the Ravens still have to figure it all out. But as practice nears, The Baltimore Sun will take a position-by-position look at the Ravens’ roster. Today, the team’s offensive line situation is analyzed.
(Editor’s note: Offensive linemen R.J. Prince, Evan Adams and Daishawn Dixon have since been waived, while Andre Smith opted out of the 2020 season.)
T Orlando Brown Jr.: The right tackle made the Pro Bowl as an alternate last year in his first full season as a starter. The 6-foot-8 Brown hasn’t missed a snap since he took over the job in Week 7 of the 2018 season.
G/C Bradley Bozeman: After a solid second season, the Ravens’ starting left guard is virtually assured of a job somewhere along the interior. He has the experience to handle center, if necessary, having played there at Alabama.
C Matt Skura: The Ravens’ top center suffered a season-ending knee injury in November, but a committed offseason rehabilitation has him on track to be ready for Week 1. Coach John Harbaugh said last year that Skura had developed into one of the NFL’s better players at the position.
G/C Patrick Mekari: The former California tackle had never played center before last season, but he impressed after taking over for Skura. Pro Football Focus rated Mekari, an undrafted rookie, as its second-best first-year lineman in 2019.
G Ben Powers: The 2019 fourth-round pick practiced but was inactive for the first three-plus months of his rookie season, limited in part by a thumb injury. Powers showed his potential in the Ravens’ regular-season finale, and a healthy preseason will be important.
T Andre Smith: The 2009 first-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals signed with the Ravens in January and agreed to a one-year extension a month later. At 33, Smith is by far the oldest offensive lineman on the team.
G Will Holden: The fourth-year pro was signed to the Ravens’ practice squad in December. Holden’s appeared in 11 career games, last starting in 2018 for the Arizona Cardinals.
G R.J. Prince: The third-year pro spent the season on the Ravens’ practice squad after trying out in training camp last year. Prince played both guard and tackle at North Carolina.
G D.J. Fluker: The 2013 first-round pick has reunited with the Ravens’ Joe D’Alessandris, the offensive line coach for his first three NFL seasons. Fluker agreed to a one-year deal with the Ravens shortly after the Seattle Seahawks released him in April.
G/T Tyre Phillips: The third-round pick is expected to transition from left tackle, where he started for Mississippi State, to guard, where his strength could be best served. If Phillips doesn’t win a starting job inside, he could also contribute as a swing tackle.
G Ben Bredeson: The fourth-round pick started 46 games at left guard for Michigan, earning All-America honors last season, and was a two-time team captain under coach Jim Harbaugh. Despite athletic limitations, Bredeson is considered a good fit in the Ravens’ run-first offense.
C Trystan Colon-Castillo: The undrafted rookie started all 38 games of his Missouri career at center before declaring early for the draft.
G/C Sean Pollard: The undrafted rookie was a two-time second-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection and started 15 games at center last season for Clemson.
G Evan Adams: The undrafted rookie started 33 games at guard for Syracuse over his college career.
G Daishawn Dixon: The undrafted rookie from San Diego State was named second-team All-Mountain West Conference at left guard last season.
What to watch
The Ravens’ offensive line last season was among the league’s best — and healthiest, too. But with All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda’s retirement, Skura’s offseason rehab and an influx of new players, there are a lot of moving parts along the interior.
At least two could be nailed down before long. Harbaugh has said Bozeman will start somewhere in 2020, most likely at left guard. If Skura is cleared for full-contact practice, he’ll be pegged as the favorite at center. That would leave one starting job up for grabs.
It’s a battle that could be even fiercer than last year’s left guard competition. (Remember Jermaine Eluemunor and James Hurst?) Because of his starting experience, Fluker is seen as the front-runner to replace Yanda. But he would have to hold off a youthful group.
Powers has maybe the most accomplished college resume among the team’s unproven guards. Mekari will likely continue to cross-train at center and guard. Bredeson is well built and smart, an important attribute in a topsy-turvy offseason. And Phillips has the raw power that can make him a bulldozer in the run game.
For this season anyway, the Ravens are well set at tackle. Stanley kept quarterback Lamar Jackson’s blind side well protected last season, and Brown took a big step forward at right tackle. Few teams, if any, have a better pair of bookends.
As for who’ll back them up? That might be the position’s most intriguing preseason question. Hurst, typically a reliable swing tackle, was released in March. Smith, by far the most experienced returner at tackle, has spent barely more time in Ravens colors than the team’s rookies.
If the former Bengals starter isn’t up for the job, Phillips could be the short-term answer. He said after the Ravens drafted him that he was targeting Yanda’s vacant position. He also hadn’t played guard until the Senior Bowl in January.
“I feel the transition is going to be really good,” the 6-5, 344-pound Phillips said in April. “I was the starting left tackle at Mississippi State, so I have the tackle footwork and I have a guard body. So I’m going to bring in a big ol’ athletic guy into this organization that is smart, can learn the playbook and learn schemes. I’m just going to try to do my part and just let everything play out.”
The Ravens’ roster math at offensive line probably won’t change this season, but offseason changes will give them more help there on game days. Under the NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement, active rosters will grow from 46 players to 48, provided there are eight linemen available.
The Ravens kept nine linemen on their initial 53-man roster last year, and that figure could carry over into 2020. They’ll need at least three NFL-caliber tackles and at least five healthy interior linemen. Barring injury, it’ll be an uphill battle for the team’s newest crop of undrafted rookies.