Offensive line has crowd, competition



May 05, 2007|By MIKE PRESTON

Ravens starting right guard Keydrick Vincent has a great sense of humor, and it was on display when he was asked about the club taking Auburn guard Ben Grubbs in the first round of last weekend's NFL draft.

"We did? We took a guard?" Vincent asked, laughing. "I didn't know that."

There are some who believe it's just a matter of time before Grubbs replaces Vincent, but Vincent isn't one of them. In fact, he welcomes the competition, which began yesterday with the rookie minicamp.

With Grubbs and third-round pick Marshal Yanda, a guard-tackle from Iowa, added to the mix, the Ravens will have their stiffest competition on the offensive line since their first season in 1996, when they had tackles Tony Jones and Orlando Brown, guards Jonathan Ogden (he played that position only as a rookie), Wally Williams and Jeff Blackshear, and center Steve Everitt.

"We have a lot of guys who have played before, like six, seven or eight," Ravens offensive line coach Chris Foerster said. "You throw in one or two young guys, and you've got a pretty competitive mix."

Vincent said: "Honestly, I can't worry about anyone else but myself. I plan on coming back and having a great year. I have been working out with my trainer during the offseason, and I'm down to 315 pounds [from 330].

"My goal is to get faster and stronger every day because I want to stay healthy this season. After that, as far as the competition, whatever happens, happens."

Grubbs vs. Vincent is only one of several story lines on an offensive line where only one player, left tackle Ogden, is secure. The Ravens are expected to challenge for a Super Bowl title this season, so they aren't in a wait-and-rebuild mode.

Besides Vincent and Grubbs, Jason Brown and Brian Rimpf also will compete for playing time at guard even though Brown is listed as the starter on the left side.

Veteran Mike Flynn is expected to start at center, but he'll have a tough battle with second-year player Chris Chester. Right tackle Adam Terry played well filling in for Ogden at times last season, but some in the organization are concerned about his toughness. No one questions that about Yanda, who eventually could become the right tackle when Ogden retires, and if Terry is moved to the left side.

"When I get there, I have to get with Adam Terry," Vincent said. "This is my third year with the team and my third different right tackle."

Usually, veterans have an edge on the younger players because they know the system, but no one is quite sure what to expect this year. The Ravens cut running back Jamal Lewis, and the offense is expected to undergo some kind of facelift.

Gone are the days when the Ravens just lined up in the power-I formation and tried to run over teams. The Ravens are supposed to be more versatile and less predictable. They're expected to attack the perimeter more and run inside less. Most of the team's offensive linemen can run and make blocks into the second level of a defense.

There might be more screens and traps for new running back Willis McGahee. This style certainly fits better for Vincent and Grubbs. Vincent played that style when he was with the Pittsburgh Steelers. It took him almost a year to make the transition in 2005, and he never got into a rhythm last season.

He missed four games last season with what was believed to be a pulled groin, but was later diagnosed the week of the playoff game against Indianapolis as a sports hernia. Despite great pain, Vincent took painkilling injections before the Colts game, and underwent an operation a week later.

Vincent played with the sports hernia for two years.

"I had the tear for two years," Vincent said. "The first season I was here I couldn't even bend my leg. It was like I was playing on one leg. It's a hard injury to detect, but at the end of the season I went to Philadelphia to see the same doctor who took care of Donovan McNabb. It all made sense to him.

"I would play three games, then miss a couple, but felt comfortable enough to play another game or two, and then injure it again," Vincent said. "I was never at 100 percent.

"But I'm at 100 percent now," Vincent said. "This is the last year of my contract, and the Ravens did what they were supposed to do drafting Grubbs. My job is to go out and play. Last year, we came close to going to the Super Bowl and I plan on having one hell of a season. I want to do my best to help this team win games, get to the playoffs and then the Super Bowl. What happens after that is all business."

What happens between now and when training camp opens in late July is all preparation. According to Foerster, the rookies will learn nothing but fundamentals this weekend. They'll dissect plays and go over protections. They won't run through many plays, but at least the initial phase of the competition has begun.

"In training camp, we're going to really have a nice group," Foerster said.

Nice and competitive. The Ravens haven't had it this way for quite a while.

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