Gaither's Starting To Fill Those Big Shoes

Ravens Training Camp

Ogden Thinks 23-year-old Will Follow In His Footsteps

August 17, 2009|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,

No one associated with the Ravens is saying publicly that offensive tackle Jared Gaither will be the next Jonathan Ogden.

Ogden, however, said the comparison is not that far-fetched.

"Yeah, I do," Ogden said Tuesday when asked if he sees a lot of himself in Gaither. "I see a lot of the God-given size and athleticism that you can't coach. This is really, what, his third year now, and what did he come out of Maryland as - a sophomore? He could still be in college or a rookie this year. The guy's got plenty of room to grow. As soon as he gets the game down to where he doesn't have to think about it, that's when he could become something really special."

That's a huge compliment coming from an 11-time Pro Bowl player who was long considered the prototypical left tackle and is expected to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

It also raises the bar of expectations for Gaither, a third-year player who was a fifth-round pick in the 2007 supplemental draft and thought to be a project.

But if you're expecting Gaither to wilt under the spotlight, don't hold your breath.

"Everybody wants to be the best, and I won't sell myself short on being the best," said Gaither, who made 15 starts in Ogden's old position last season after Ogden retired. "I'm not the best tackle in the league yet. So there's always room for improvement. Until I'm the best, I have a lot of work to do."

What some forget is that Gaither is just 23, the ninth-youngest player on the Ravens' roster.

In his first full season as a starter, Gaither surrendered just three sacks against a group of pass rushers that included Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison, Miami Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter and Houston Texans defensive end Mario Williams.

Closer to home, Gaither regularly tests himself against Ravens pass rushers Terrell Suggs, Trevor Pryce, Jarret Johnson and Antwan Barnes. Johnson, an outside linebacker, said Gaither more than holds his own during practice.

"The guy is, first of all, huge," Johnson said. "He's got really good strength; he's a great athlete. The guy's just got a ton of upside. The more he keeps working, the more experience he's going to get, the better he's going to be."

There are a number of similarities between Gaither and Ogden, Both are 6 feet 9, and Gaither, at 330 pounds, is just five pounds lighter than his predecessor.

Both Ogden and Gaither have long arms that can keep pass rushers at bay or open running lanes. Both also have nimble feet that rarely stay rooted in the turf.

Whereas Ogden's movements almost became instinctual, however, Gaither is still absorbing the nuances of the game. But offensive line coach John Matsko said he has been impressed by Gaither's growth in the mental aspect of the position.

"He tries to do it the way you teach it," Matsko said. "And when you're making corrections, he has the ability to get the correction and get it fixed right away. And, really, even before you have to go over and correct him, he's got it figured out."

Perhaps the biggest roadblock to Gaither's development is his injury history. He injured his right shoulder midway through last season, and although he made 15 of 16 starts, the pain didn't subside until the offseason. Gaither sat out Thursday's preseason opener against the Washington Redskins because of a sore left trapezius muscle.

The fate of the offense can be linked to several players, but there is a line of thought that Gaither may be one of the most important cogs because he has to protect quarterback Joe Flacco's blindside.

Gaither, however, dismissed any pressure to stay healthy, preferring instead to focus on the entire offensive line.

"We know what we have to do, and the offensive line knows what's at stake," he said. "We can get it done. We want to be the best offensive line for this offense. We work hard and strive toward that every day."

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said Gaither should anticipate getting a more thorough examination from opposing defenses seeking to expose any weakness in Gaither's blocking.

"The one thing young guys have to realize is everybody gets more familiar with them," he said. "You get better, you get worse, you don't stay the same. I think he's gotten better, but I think he'll realize, too, as these games start, people know a lot about him now. And they know the things he needs to improve on from last year. We know what they are, and now they need to show up on tape."

Count Ogden as one who thinks Gaither will not disappoint.

"I expect big things out of him this year," Ogden said. "I expect him to be talked about for consideration to go to - well, it's not Hawaii anymore, unfortunately - a Pro Bowl. He should be one of the top tackles in the AFC, hopefully this year if he just continues to progress like he did last year."


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