After more than a month of inactivity, football is approaching fast.
The Ravens’ first full-team training camp practice will be held Thursday. Their first preseason game is Aug. 8 against the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars. Final cuts for the 53-man active roster are due by 4 p.m. Aug. 31. Training camp will help shape the roster before the Sept. 8 regular-season opener against the Dolphins in Miami.
As practice nears, The Baltimore Sun will take a position-by-position look at the Ravens’ roster, including breakdowns of all 90 players. Today, the team’s offensive line situation is analyzed.
Will the Ravens’ weak spots be improved this year? The Ravens went through three starters at left guard last season before settling on their fourth, James Hurst, who’s set for a fierce battle in training camp. At center, Matt Skura has fewer challengers but faces similar questions. With those positions shored up, the line would be one of the NFL’s best.
One smaller question
How much will the line’s tendencies change? Marshal Yanda almost never pulled from his right guard spot last season. Los Angeles Chargers defenders said left tackle Ronnie Stanley’s feet placement tipped them off to certain plays in their AFC wild-card game. Right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. was unconventional with some of his pass-blocking sets. It’s up to the coaches to decide what works.
Ronnie Stanley: The 2016 first-round pick has told coach John Harbaugh that he wants to be the league’s best left tackle, and he took another step forward last season. Among left tackles, Stanley ranked behind only Dallas Cowboys star Tyron Smith last season in allowed-pressure rate, according to Pro Football Focus, and allowed just two sacks. As a run blocker, he was again solid if unspectacular.
Maybe most impressive, though, is his durability: Despite spraining his ankle in mid-November, Stanley started 15 games and finished with his second straight 1,000-snap season. The Ravens picked up the fifth-year option on his contract this offseason, likely keeping him in Baltimore through at least 2020.
James Hurst: The early favorite to start at left guard has job security even if he doesn’t win the competition. And not just because of the contract extension Hurst signed last year that will pay him over $5 million annually through 2021. He’s proven himself a solid swing tackle, and he’s started everywhere along the line but center. (His starts at right guard came during the preseason last year, when starter Marshal Yanda was still getting back to strength.)
The hope in Baltimore is that Hurst, after an offseason of rest and recovery, can restore some of the strength he seemed to lose while dealing with a midseason nerve root issue in his back. He did not win many fans with his poor play in the Ravens’ season-ending loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
Matt Skura: The Ravens’ incumbent starting center has plenty of 2018 film available for self-study. Skura led the NFL in offensive snaps (1,189) and total snaps (1,265) last season, as much a testament to his durability as the Ravens’ time of possession during their late-season run.
In his first season at center, Skura struggled at times with facets both physical (ceding ground to stronger defensive tackles) and technical (poor shotgun and pistol snaps to Lamar Jackson). While he might never develop into a strength of the offensive line, Skura’s earned the trust of the coaching staff. Stability at left guard would help him better control the middle, too.
Marshal Yanda: The longtime starting right guard is already well positioned to improve on an All-Pro season. At the start of training camp last year, Yanda wasn’t even off the physically-unable-to-perform list. At the end of mandatory minicamp in mid-June, the 34-year-old who’d finished second in the NFL in offensive snaps said he felt “really good.”
While Pro Football Focus rated Yanda’s 2018 season as the worst of his career, he still finished with the fourth-best grade among guards. No veteran better epitomized the Ravens’ smashmouth style last year than Yanda, whose contract extension has left open the possibility of a return in 2020.
Orlando Brown Jr.: The son of “Zeus,” former Ravens tackle Orlando Brown, was solid in pass protection and often nasty in run blocking as a rookie. According to PFF, Brown’s 4.8% allowed-pressure rate on pass-blocking snaps was eighth best among all right tackles. And according to Russell Street Report, he had 24 pancake blocks in his 10 starts, the most of any Ravens lineman during that end-of-season stretch.
While Brown struggled in the Ravens’ season-ending loss to the Chargers — Uchenna Nwosu beat him around the edge for the decisive strip sack — there’s still room to grow, especially physically. Ravens strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders called the 6-foot-8, 345-pound Brown a “freak” this offseason.
Bradley Bozeman: The 2018 sixth-round pick saw most of his snaps last year at left guard, spelling James Hurst for stretches late in the season. But during organized team activities and mandatory minicamp, Bozeman spent most of his time at center, where he started as a junior and senior for Alabama. He’s versatile enough to play anywhere inside, but Harbaugh has not indicated that he’s in contention for the left guard job.
Jermaine Eluemunor: The 2017 fifth-round pick saw first-team repetitions at left guard during mandatory minicamp, but coach John Harbaugh sent him into the offseason with the reminder that to “practice like he needs to practice and play,” he first needs to work himself into shape. Eluemunor doesn’t have the leanest frame, but he performed admirably as a stopgap left tackle duty last season. If he doesn’t make the Ravens’ season-opening 53-man roster, another team might make space for him on theirs.
Ben Powers: The fourth-round pick allowed just 21 total pressures over three years and 1,177 pass-blocking snaps at Oklahoma, according to PFF. But Powers’ run blocking is still a work in progress, and his limited lateral mobility could be a problem in the Ravens’ power-blocking schemes. He’s in the mix at left guard but is probably a year away from significant contributions.
Greg Senat: A foot injury sent the sixth-round pick to injured reserve in late August, and he never saw the field during his rookie year. Senat did make headlines, though, after tweeting a photo of his walking boot, which drew Harbaugh’s ire: “Obviously, he doesn’t know any better.” The former Wagner basketball player has the size (6-6, 305) and, presumably, footwork to develop into a swing tackle.
On the bubble
Marcus Applefield: The undrafted free agent started 13 games at right tackle last season for Virginia. The 6-5 Applefield, who also started 10 games at right guard for Rutgers in 2017, showed good strength and quickness in predraft testing.
Randin Crecelius: Signed as an undrafted free agent last year, he spent all but one week on the Ravens’ practice squad last season. The 6-5, 300-pound Crecelius played left tackle at Portland State but has moved inside in Baltimore.
Alex Lewis: The guard’s once-promising career has reached a potential make-or-break year in Baltimore, and his injury history won’t do him any favors. Lewis has missed significant time in each of his three seasons: a sprained ankle that cost him six games in 2016, a season-ending preseason shoulder injury in 2017, a neck injury last season that sidelined him for two October games, and then a related shoulder injury that limited him over the season’s final month and required offseason surgery. Over his 10 starts at left guard last year, he was one of PFF’s lowest-graded guards.
Patrick Mekari: The undrafted free agent started 22 games at left tackle over his California career, but a leg injury cut short his senior season and kept him from playing in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. The 6-4 Mekari earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors last year after allowing just seven total pressures (six hurries, one hit) on 377 pass-blocking snaps, according to PFF.
R.J. Prince: Signed in May after spending last season on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ practice squad, the 6-6, 311-pound Prince is the biggest guard on the roster. He went undrafted in 2018 after starting 24 games over his final two seasons at North Carolina.
Patrick Vahe: The undrafted free agent twice earned All-Big 12 honorable mention and started 45 games over his Texas career. The 6-2 Vahe showed good power in college but most prove he has the mobility to get out and clear a path in the Ravens’ blocking schemes.
Darrell Williams: Signed in May after being waived by the Los Angeles Rams, the tackle has appeared in seven career games, all during his rookie season two years ago. Williams, undrafted out of Western Kentucky, spent the first half of 2017 on the San Francisco 49ers’ practice squad before being promoted to the active roster.