Big guys eager for smash-mouth resuscitation Ogden, Brown anchor talented group lacking in depth but not size

Offensive line

September 04, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

When the Ravens decided to commit to a two-back offensive set, the players who welcomed the news with the most excitement were the guys up front.

To put it simply, a two-back attack is just what the offensive line craved. That philosophy guarantees a commitment to the running game, which is music to the ears of any line.

"We want to be physical. We want to smash people," right guard Jeff Blackshear said.

The offensive line, one of the strengths of the team since it moved to Baltimore in 1996, will get plenty of chances to play smash-mouth football.

And the Ravens say they have just the type of massive, experienced line to make the new offense go, a group that averages 321 pounds and features All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden and proven performers like fellow tackle Orlando Brown and guards Wally Williams and Blackshear.

Those four have been together for two full seasons, and they are joined in 1998 by newcomer Jeff Mitchell, who has come back from a knee injury that ruined his rookie year. Mitchell, penciled in as the backup center behind Williams initially, took over as the starter in the preseason after the Ravens decided to move Williams to left guard.

"Sure, I was surprised," said Mitchell, who also missed the last half of his senior year at Florida with an ankle injury. "But at the same time, it's good that they have confidence in me. But you only play as good as your last week. I hope I stay there. I'm excited about it."

Offensive line coach Kirk Ferentz said: "Jeff's perseverance has impressed me. He's just solid, very competitive. He's worked real hard just to get to this position. He's hit a lot of potholes in the road to get here. But he keeps coming back."

Look for the Ravens to run more counters and traps, which will allow the 323-pound Blackshear and the 315-pound Williams to showcase their athleticism.

The bookends of the line, Ogden and Brown, offer a striking contrast in style. Ogden, 6 feet 8, 318 pounds, is the consummate technician, especially as a pass blocker. Brown, at 6-7, 350, lacks Ogden's polish, but counters with some of the nastiest run-blocking this side of Conrad Dobler.

"I'm not good at saying 'best' about anything, but I'll just say we're very happy with our pair [of tackles]," Ferentz said. "We wouldn't want to trade them for anything."

The depth up front is questionable. James Atkins, a five-year veteran, was inconsistent throughout training camp, and missed the last two preseason games with a knee injury. Guard Ben Cavil started eight games on the left side last year, but couldn't win the job and forced the Ravens to move Williams there in 1998.

Scouting report

Strengths: The line is big, athletic and tough. It features the game's premier left tackle in Jonathan Ogden and should control the line of scrimmage.

Weaknesses: Center Jeff Mitchell has never played a regular-season down and is barely a year removed from knee surgery. An injury to him or any other starter could expose suspect depth.

Skinny: The Ravens like to talk about this unit as one of the league's best. It's high time they start proving it.

Preseason grade: C. After two solid games, the line slumped badly in its final two games, especially in the run-blocking area.

Pub Date: 9/04/98

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