Blackshear shares in load Ravens: Although teammates Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Brown receive the bulk of the attention, the right guard does his bit to beef up the offensive line.

August 03, 1998|By Ryan Basen | Ryan Basen,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

When Ravens fans examine the team's offensive line, talk gravitates toward the two mammoth tackles, Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Brown. Less noticeable is the consistent play of right guard Jeff Blackshear, a 6-foot-6, 323-pound force who has started 28 of 32 games at guard in his two seasons in Baltimore.

The lack of recognition is nothing new for Blackshear, 29, an eighth-round pick in the 1993 NFL draft. "I like it that way. I'd rather go out and just play football. It's my role with the team and with the offensive line," he said.

It's difficult not to notice a man this big, talented and durable. Blackshear started every game last season and has played in every game during the past four seasons. He has missed only one game in his five-year career, during his rookie year with the Seattle Seahawks.

That toughness has served Blackshear well. "You can't feel intimidated in this league. You've got to go out and prove a point on every snap," he said. "If you don't, they'll find somebody to replace you."

Blackshear found that out in 1995 with Seattle when he lost his starting job. Then came the off-season, and a trade to the Ravens for a 1997 fourth-round draft choice.

It would be an adjustment for Blackshear, but he was hardly alone. The franchise was relocating from Cleveland, so everyone would be playing in a new city, and several new players joined the team in 1996, among them first-round pick Ogden.

"I knew they had a big offensive line from when we played against them in 1994. I knew then that I'd like to play with Orlando [Brown] someday," Blackshear said. "But you never know what to expect when you've been traded. You have to go out and play the game and not worry about it. I think I adjusted very well."

The Ravens struggled to a 4-12 record in 1996, but the offensive line was a cornerstone. Ogden, Brown and Blackshear played in every game, with Blackshear starting 12 games at right guard. Along with center Wally Williams, they anchored a line that helped the Ravens finish second in the NFL in total yards and boosted quarterback Vinny Testaverde to his first Pro Bowl.

In his second season in Baltimore, Blackshear won the starting right guard position. The offense finished ninth in the league, and in three games the line sprung running backs Bam Morris and Jay Graham for more than 100 yards, including a career-high 176 yards for Morris in a 20-17 win over Washington on Oct. 26.

"That's the type of game we want to play every week," Blackshear said of the game in which the Ravens rushed for 199 yards and controlled the ball for more than 35 minutes.

Ogden was rewarded with a Pro Bowl selection, and Brown served as team captain. Williams figures to be rewarded for his season when he ends his current holdout from camp. With that group, Blackshear doesn't mind staying in the background.

"It's good to play with those guys," he said. "I can always count on them to give 100 percent on every snap."

Blackshear says a big reason for the offensive line's success is that their styles of play mesh well. "I'm known as a physical player, which I prefer to be. I have some technique, but not as much as Jon and Wally have. Orlando and I are more like power players. We're a strong combination, all of us together have good balance."

Blackshear sees better things ahead for the projected starting five -- Ogden, Ben Cavil, Williams, Blackshear and Brown -- all of whom are under 30. "I think this line can be great. We're still young," he said. "The longer we play together, the better we'll become."

Improvement would help smooth the Ravens' transition to a new offense. The off-season acquisitions of running backs Errict Rhett and Roosevelt Potts, Blackshear's former college teammate at Northeast Louisiana, and the switch to a two-back set have Blackshear excited about 1998.

"We should have a better ball-control attack and we can do more things then we did in the past with a two-back set," Blackshear said. "We finally have a complete fullback. It's going to be great to play with Roosevelt again. He'll help us a lot."

At Northeast Louisiana, Blackshear was a Kodak first-team All-American as a senior, playing in a potent pro-set offense with Potts and two other future NFL players -- Vincent Brisby and Greg Robinson. Blackshear's line helped Potts set the Northeast Louisiana school rushing record with 3,061 yards.

As for his goals for the 1998 season, Blackshear puts the postseason above all else. "Every year I want to win more games and play harder, be more physical," he said. "But I really want to get to the playoffs. I've never played in the postseason. This team has grown up a lot since 1996. We're ready to do it now."

Pub Date: 8/03/98

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