Rush job for Yanda

Injuries thrust tackle into starting role as rookie

December 15, 2007|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun reporter

Marshal Yanda came to the Ravens in the third round of this year's college draft, projected as a player who would patiently wait his turn at offensive tackle behind Jonathan Ogden and Adam Terry.

Fewer than two dozen snaps into the 2007 season opener in Cincinnati, the process for Yanda sped up exponentially when Ogden, the perennial All-Pro already battling a hyperextended big toe, sprained his foot.

Yanda's number was called.

"I was pretty nervous; I'm not going to lie," Yanda recalled this week. "I had two false starts. I had a holding penalty. It was a pretty bad game for me. I was nervous because I didn't expect to play. You've just got to be ready. From then on, I tried to improve every game."

Along with fellow rookies Ben Grubbs, the team's first-round draft pick, and Jared Gaither, who was picked in the supplemental draft after leaving Maryland, Yanda has given the Ravens their offensive line of the future.

"The best thing about Marshal is that he doesn't repeat mistakes," offensive line coach Chris Foerster said. "The things he learned a week ago, those mistakes usually don't show up again; it's a new set of things. Eventually, he'll get to a point where - when he's seen everything - there won't be a lot of mistakes."

Yanda, who has since replaced a banged-up Terry at right tackle after Ogden returned, will face perhaps his stiffest test when he matches up at times tomorrow against Miami Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

For Yanda, it's another opportunity to learn.

"Each game is a really big challenge to me," Yanda said. "I'm still learning how to play at this level. The big thing I try to do is I try to focus on those guys during the week, see what they're good at. I try to look at their tendencies so when they come up in a game, I'm not surprised by it."

Though there have been more than a few bumps and breakdowns along the way judging by the number of times quarterback Kyle Boller - and Steve McNair before him - has been sacked, hurried and generally harassed, Yanda's effort has been appreciated by his teammates.

"He's a lineman, meaning that things [breakdowns] irritate him, upset him," Ogden said. "He's got the right mentality to make it in this league. He's not the biggest [6 feet 3, 310 pounds], strongest guy, but he plays tough, he plays hard, and he's learning on the go. He's been a very pleasant surprise for us."

When Yanda left the University of Iowa in the spring, Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz, the former assistant head coach of the Ravens, gave him some advice.

"He told me, `Don't change,'" Yanda said.

That Yanda is playing in the NFL has much to do with his ability to change. Growing up on a farm in the small town of Anamosa, Iowa, Yanda didn't have the grades coming out of high school to go to a Division I school.

"I didn't have my head on my shoulders in high school," he said. "I had a lot of growing up to do."

Yanda played two seasons at a local community college and two more at Iowa. By the time he left, Yanda was a co-captain who majored in economics.

He knew the numbers in Baltimore weren't in his favor. There was a veteran offensive line, along with Grubbs and Gaither, who had an impressive training camp.

"To tell you the truth, I didn't expect to play much," said Yanda, who has started nine games, including the past three. "J.O. got hurt, then Adam is still not playing right because of his ankle. That's really inhibited his game. I kind of just have had to play my butt off. If that opportunity comes, I try to be ready and not hurt the team."

For the most part, Yanda has done that. But don't ask him how well he has played.

"There are always two or three or four plays that tick me off," Yanda said. "You can play 55 good snaps, 70 good snaps, but two [bad] plays as an offensive lineman, you're [in trouble]. It's a tough game."

Notes -- Cornerback Samari Rolle, who sat out Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts because of a shoulder injury, is listed as doubtful for tomorrow's game. Billick said after practice that he didn't expect either Rolle or tight end Todd Heap (hamstring) to play, though Heap participated in practice on a limited basis. Others who are questionable include defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (knee), defensive tackle Justin Bannan (knee), tight end Daniel Wilcox (toe, foot), linebacker Ray Lewis (back) and linebacker Terrell Suggs (flu).

don.markus@baltsun.com

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