Ravens' `O' line still work in progress

Shuffling of familiar faces may continue in preseason

Ravens' offensive line still a work in progress

Pro Football

July 22, 2002|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Ravens coaches view the offensive line as the most seasoned squad on the team as a starting group.

That assessment, though, is limited to the individual components that make up the whole and not their work at their respective positions.

Four of the five players were starters last year. But while left tackle Jonathan Ogden and right guard Bennie Anderson will open training camp, which begins Friday, at the positions they played last season, the rest of the line may have some adjustments to make.

Gone is the combination of Kipp Vickers and Sammie Williams at right tackle, replaced by former left guard Edwin Mulitalo. Casey Rabach, the Ravens' third-round pick a year ago, is slated to fill Mulitalo's spot, but that could change depending on how well Rabach takes to left guard.

Rabach, 24, played center in 1999 at Wisconsin and practiced there with the Ravens as the backup to Mike Flynn all last season. This off-season, the Ravens moved Rabach back to guard, where he played as a senior at Wisconsin, and named him starter.

Swapping those two players, though, is still not out of the question.

"Mike has played a whole year at center, so he is real comfortable there," offensive line coach Jim Colletto said. "Casey has done a good job [at guard, during the off-season]. He's changed his body structure. Last year, his weakness was in his lower body strength. He's a real hard-working, tough guy.

"We'll start out with Casey at guard and Mike at center. I'm really more concerned about injury situations."

Still, Rabach said he is approaching this upcoming preseason ready to play either position.

"It's going to take like a week or so in camp to see how Edwin does at right tackle, how I do at guard," said Rabach, 6 feet 4, 301 pounds, "and if they try and switch me and Mike at guard and center. I think it is going to come down to a coaching decision, whoever plays which position best is probably how it is going to end up.

"Definitely by the first two preseason games, I'd like to know. I think that is when the deciding factor will be. I'm preparing myself to have the final word said after the second preseason game, which is fine by me."

Flynn, 28, in his fifth year, also said the line should have a good idea of what it can do midway through the preseason. If things are not working out, then a switch needs to be made in time for the regular season opener at Carolina on Sept. 8.

"As long as I have a week or two to prepare," said Flynn, "I should be fine.

"I've played right guard for a whole season, center for a whole season. The year before that [1999], I played five or six games at left guard. So I'm always ready to switch around if I have to. They know that, and already brought it up to me. And, too, when you are only suiting up six or seven guys for a game, usually those guys are pretty flexible on the line."

Jason Thomas, a late-season addition at tackle last year, is slotted to back up guard and center. Colletto also pointed to Thomas' maturation as a capable backup as a key to whether Rabach stays at guard.

If Thomas struggles and there is an injury to Flynn, Rabach may have to go back to his old position out of necessity.

"It's hard for me to think in terms of me switching them arbitrarily," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I can't think of a scenario whereby that would happen, barring obviously if there was an injury that would preclude one moving to the others position."

Said Colletto: "This is the group. This is how we are going to start the season unless the preseason games show us otherwise."

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