They're hardly undersized, but O-linemen still overlooked

Pro Football

August 04, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

IT'S HARD to imagine how these guys can be overlooked. On one side is left tackle Jonathan Ogden, at 6 feet 9 and 360 pounds. On the other is Orlando Brown, 360 pounds. In the middle are two more guys over the 350 mark, and the runt center at a mere 305.

But at the Ravens' 2004 training camp, the talk is about coach Brian Billick's new contract, or one of the Lewises, running back Jamal or linebacker Ray. The knee of Pro Bowl outside linebacker Peter Boulware has generated a lot of conversation, and cornerback Chris McAlister's holdout has drawn more attention than the offensive line.

Is this any way to treat a group that pushed, pounded and shoved the opposition aside as Jamal Lewis rushed for 2,066 yards last season, second in NFL history behind Eric Dickerson's 2,105 in 1984?

"We had one Pro Bowl player [Ogden] last year," said offensive line coach Jim Colletto. "Edwin [left guard Edwin Mulitalo] came close, so maybe if we come close to leading the league in rushing again, we'll get some more guys in."

Maybe this group needs a nickname. O.J. Simpson had the Electric Company when he was with the Buffalo Bills. John Riggins ran behind the Hogs in Washington. But in Baltimore, it's just J.O. and the No-Names.

The Ravens aren't pretty to watch. Last year it was basic, straight ahead, punch-you-in-the-face kind of stuff with a 245-pound halfback who could cut back nearly as well as any of the league's smaller runners.

The formula will remain basically the same in 2004: They want to line it up and dance, and may the biggest, fastest and nastiest group win.

"It's a good group," said Colletto. "If they play up to their ability, I don't know if Jamal will get 2,000 yards again, but we should be able to run the ball. We've got big guys who are real agile. They all move pretty well, and that's important.`"

The Ravens are explosive at the point of attack, especially on the left side with Ogden and Mulitalo, but they also do an excellent job on the back or off side. Once they engage, it's hard to get a 350-pound monster off your hip even in pursuit. The constant contact allows Lewis to cut back.

But the Ravens might want to run a little east and west this season instead of always going north and south.

They've added more counter action and toss sweeps, which use their linemen's athleticism. They've put in more motion, shifts and play-action passes.

"We faced eight and nine in the box last year with all kinds of variations and looks," said Ogden. "Hopefully, we can do some things that will keep defenses more predictable for the upcoming year. There is hardly a team out there, when we are where we need to be, we can't outmuscle them."

A little, short guy teaches the tough-guy approach. It's funny at times watching the 5-foot-7, 170-pound Colletto work with this group because he can get lost behind all that humanity, and all you hear is his high-pitched, squealing voice. But Colletto is a hard-working, stubborn, in-your-face kind of coach.

Ravens officials adamantly denied last November that Colletto got into a shouting match with Brown in the locker room after a loss to the Dolphins in Miami. But Colletto went toe-to-toe, face-to-hip with Brown. He laughed about the incident recently.

But no one deserves as much credit for the success of the line. Look at his starting five. Only Ogden was a first-round pick. Mulitalo was taken in the fourth round, and center Mike Flynn, right guard Bennie Anderson and Brown were all rookie free agents.

Individually, it's not a great group. Mulitalo is a mauler, but needs to improve his pass blocking. Flynn is an overachiever who'll always give you a solid game, but sometimes gets overpowered. Anderson has explosion at the point of attack, but needs to improve cutting off back-side pursuit. Brown can be intimidating and brings that nasty attitude, but he tends to get sloppy with technique. Ogden is a stud and has no weaknesses.

As a group, along with reserves Casey Rabach, a guard and center, and tackle Ethan Brooks, the Ravens need to improve on pass blocking. The line struggles because, for the most part, it's top-heavy. It's like driving a tractor-trailer: It's a lot easier going forward than trying to back those big, old things up.

But the Ravens want to move forward. That's the philosophy of their offense, where the running game sets up the passing game.

During the offseason, Colletto was a candidate to become the offensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals. If the Ravens can dominate again this season, it would improve Colletto's stock as a coordinator.

"I'd like to do that. I did that most of my college career and had success with it at big-time schools," said Colletto. "I'd like to see if I can do it here, too. But I can't complain. I'm in a pretty good situation here with the Ravens. This group is going to be OK."

Now, if only people knew who they were.

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