Ravens' line might have age-old issues

September 30, 2005|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,SUN REPORTER

If the Ravens want to re-establish their running attack - the dominant theme heading into Sunday's game against the New York Jets - they must figure out what's wrong with their offensive line.

This is essentially the same group that plowed through defenses in Jamal Lewis' record-breaking 2003 season. These days, it's a line that seems to be just breaking down.

The Ravens are managing 2.7 yards a carry, which is second worst in the NFL, primarily because of the offensive line. Every carry appears to end the same: Lewis struggling to get back to the line of scrimmage, where there are no holes to escape.

Maybe the offensive line is just showing its years. The average age of the starters is 30.8, which ties them with the Kansas City Chiefs for second-oldest line in the NFL.

"I don't think age 30 as an offensive lineman affects you as much as age 30 for a running back or cornerback," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "I have played around offensive linemen, and they play forever. Is Kansas City at risk right now? Theirs is about that age."

The Ravens and the Chiefs are two of five teams whose line has an average age over 30.

But the Ravens have the only offensive line with more than three starters over that mark: left tackle Jonathan Ogden (31), left guard Edwin Mulitalo (31), center Mike Flynn (31) and right tackle Orlando Brown (34). The youngest starter is the lone newcomer, right guard Keydrick Vincent (27).

"Maybe it's my ignorance or I've got blinders on, I come here to do a job and my job is to block," Mulitalo said. "Sure, I felt fresher and giddier when I was younger. But it's still my job to block the guy in front of me. You can always create excuses. As an offensive lineman, the older you get, the wiser you should be. So, you should know how to get those blocks with less effort."

No unit underwent more self-evaluation during the bye week than the offensive line.

The Ravens used the extra time to break down film and analyze blocking techniques. They even had the linemen hit the blocking sled, an unusual sight for a Ravens regular-season practice.

"We went back to basics," Flynn said. "Hopefully, that will translate into games. We get paid to block. The team looks to us for a certain stability."

To push defenses around like they did before, the linemen believe they must regain a certain mentality.

"I think if we go out there with an attitude that we're going to run the ball 50 times and we're going to dominate like we did before, it's something we can accomplish," Flynn said.

The concerns about the line are not new ones. The Ravens looked at several options to upgrade their offensive front.

At right tackle, the Ravens had talked about trading up as high as New Orleans' No. 16 spot in the draft to select Oklahoma's Jammal Brown. But the Saints were the ones who jumped up, moving to No. 14 to take him. That forced the Ravens to grab tackle Adam Terry in the second round.

At right guard, the Ravens decided to let last year's starter, Bennie Anderson, go and looked initially at Jermane Mayberry, who signed early in free agency with the Saints. A day before the Ravens signed Vincent, they also brought in Roberto Garza, who failed a physical. Another option, Cooper Carlisle, backed out of an agreement in principle with the Ravens and now starts at guard for the Denver Broncos.

At center, the Ravens couldn't re-sign last year's starter, Casey Rabach, because they had already invested money in Flynn. If receiver Mark Clayton hadn't dropped to them in the draft, they had contemplated trading back in the first round and possibly picking center Chris Spencer. Instead, they waited until the fourth round to pick Jason Brown, widely considered one of the top three centers in the draft.

"We went through a process," Newsome said. "What we have right now is everything that's been made available to us."

Notes -- Ravens coach Brian Billick indicated Clayton would receive more playing time Sunday. But he declined to say whether Clayton would replace struggling Clarence Moore in the starting lineup, citing his dislike of labeling players as starters. "He is only going to get better by playing more," Billick said of Clayton. "But we have faith in Clarence and Randy Hymes." ... The Ravens added tight end Todd Heap (toe) and running back Jamal Lewis (illness) to the injury report as probable. Both are expected to start after participating in all drills yesterday.

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Old-line state

The Ravens are tied with the Chiefs for second-oldest offensive line in the NFL, ranking only behind the St. Louis Rams. But the Ravens are the only team in the league with four starters over 30.

Starters Avg.

Team over 30 age

St. Louis 3 32.0

Ravens 4 30.8

Kansas City 3 30.8

Seattle 3 30.4

Chicago 3 30.0

Denver 2 29.2

N.Y. Jets 3 29.2

[ Source: Depth charts from NFL.com]

Jets@Ravens Sunday, 4:05 p.m., Ch. 13, 1300 AM, 102.7 FM Line: Ravens by 7

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