New kids on block get in line

Ravens

October 11, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun reporter

Taking snaps yesterday behind his reconfigured starting offensive line - which included three rookies and two 24-year-old players - Ravens quarterback Steve McNair acknowledged feeling somewhat out of place.

None of his young blockers was even in high school when he started his NFL career in 1995.

"You have to start somewhere," McNair said. "They know what's ahead. I'm not going to be worried about it. If I worry about who is protecting me right now, it'll take me out of my game. I got confidence in those guys."

Injuries could force the Ravens to start the youngest offensive line in the league this season.

With offensive tackles Jonathan Ogden (toe) and Adam Terry (ankle) both hurt, rookie Jared Gaither likely will make his first career NFL start at left tackle and rookie Marshal Yanda will play at right tackle.

With center Mike Flynn (knee) questionable - his status might not be clarified until tomorrow - Chris Chester might have to make his first start at center and rookie Ben Grubbs will start at right guard.

The only player who has remained in the same spot since training camp is left guard Jason Brown.

As a group, the five projected starting linemen have a total of 31 starts. In contrast, Ogden has 167 career starts.

"They don't have a lot of experience," said offensive line coach Chris Foerster, who has never started more than two rookies in a game before. "As much as you prepare them every week to get ready for a game, things happen on Sundays that aren't usual and require an adjustment."

It was only two years ago when the Ravens had the second-oldest offensive line in the NFL. The line's average age was 30.8 years, and the youngest player was 27.

Now, the Ravens could have a line that has an average age of 23, which would be nearly three years younger than any other starting offensive front (the Arizona Cardinals' average age is 25.8).

Only the Atlanta Falcons are scheduled to start more than one rookie on their offensive line this weekend.

"We really haven't had time to look around and think, `We're a bunch of kids out here,'" Chester said. "It [hasn't quite] set in yet. Maybe at the end of the year."

The Ravens' offensive line might be young, but it's not totally raw.

Three of the Ravens' five young linemen (Chester, Grubbs and Yanda) were selected on the first day of the draft. The Ravens drafted Brown in the fourth round and used a fifth-round supplemental pick on Gaither.

And they all have a maturity about them because they've played in big games for big-time college programs from Maryland to Oklahoma to Auburn.

"They're serious about being good," Foerster said. "I've been around rookies who are just happy to be playing. These guys just don't want to be that. They want to uphold the standard of what a starting lineman should be in this league."

That dedication was evident yesterday.

When all of the other players left the practice field, the offensive linemen remained for 20 minutes to go over calls and blocking techniques with Foerster and assistant coach Greg Roman.

"We're humble," said Grubbs, the 29th overall pick in this year's draft. "We know we can get better. I know I have so much room for improvement. One day, I'm going to be great. So I'm working toward that goal."

Though the Ravens consider Terry "the most questionable," there is still an outside chance Ogden and Flynn could play Sunday against the winless St. Louis Rams.

Ogden, who has missed the past four games with an injured big toe on his left foot, continued to be limited in practice and still won't speculate on his status.

"As much as you guys are sick of asking, I'm sick of talking to you guys about it," Ogden said to reporters. "I wish I knew. It just gets better, but it gets better so slowly, and it's nothing that I can put a finger on right now. If I don't go this week, it would make sense to wait after the bye [Oct. 28]. But no matter what, I'm going to try to be back after the bye."

Flynn has a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee and did not practice. He will have a better gauge on his injury tomorrow, but he said he doesn't feel he has to rush back because of the youth on the offensive line.

"I think the guys will be fine," said Flynn, who has started seven years at center. "If it's a case of getting worse by playing, then I'd rather err on the side of caution because it's still early in the season. But I think me being out there helps them. So we'll just have to see."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Edward Lee contributed to this article.

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