Offensive line is main question mark for Ravens

Unit in flux until injured Gaither returns

August 30, 2010|By Mike Preston

Now that the third exhibition game has been played and the preseason is virtually over, the only major question left for the Ravens is about the offensive line.

Through training camp and preseason, the Ravens have answered just about everything else. There are still concerns at cornerback, but with the recent play by Fabian Washington, Chris Carr and Cary Williams and the continued progress of injured Lardarius Webb, that problem doesn't seem so severe anymore.

It's no longer a Maalox moment, except maybe when the Ravens play the Cincinnati Bengals.

Everything else, though, has moved along well. Quarterback Joe Flacco has progressed. The receivers appear to be in sync. The pass defense improved from a week ago. The Ravens are getting constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks, even though there needs to be more from the front four. The Ravens need to choose a kicker and find a top punt returner, but they have qualified players in both areas.

The offensive line?

It's still in flux and will probably remain so until starting right tackle Jared Gaither returns from a back injury. When will that happen? No one knows for sure. The Ravens have expressed a lot of confidence in backup Oniel Cousins, but that's based more on his motivation than proven ability.

There are also concerns about the health of veteran center Matt Birk, who has missed extensive practice time, and the struggles of second-year left tackle Michael Oher, even though Oher played well Saturday night against the New York Giants.

Everybody would probably feel a little better if the Ravens had one more preseason game to play their regulars, but that won't happen Thursday night against the St. Louis Rams.

Overall, the Ravens are a team with few holes, but some depth problems could be filled within days in a trade.

"We're always in the market to upgrade our football team, and it doesn't have to be a cornerback," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "If it can help our football team, then we'll do it. This is usually the time deals get done, when teams are going from the 75- to the 53-man roster. You've gotten a chance to assess your team -- strengths and weaknesses -- and you're more inclined to make a move if you have numbers at a particular strength where other teams are weak."

Flacco making strides

A key sign in the development of Flacco is that the Ravens have him throwing in the middle of the field inside the red zone.

During his first two seasons, that rarely happened. The Ravens were afraid to attack inside the 20-yard line because they didn't have confidence in their receivers or Flacco.

Flacco is also throwing more timing routes inside the red zone, making throws before the receivers come out of their breaks. The timing is still a little off, but at least strides are being made.

What's going on with Ellerbe?

One of the biggest mysteries heading into the season opener against the New York Jets is inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe.

Why isn't this kid starting?

No offense to current starter Jameel McClain, but Ellerbe is bigger and stronger. He is more physical and has a stronger presence around the line of scrimmage.

This reminds me of last season, when the Ravens tried everyone else at the position before they settled on Ellerbe, who played extremely well. But between last season and the start of training camp, he apparently lost his starting job.

Overcoming loss of Stallworth

The loss of wide receiver Donte' Stallworth for up to two months is a costly one, but let's not go overboard. Stallworth had a great training camp and was playing well, but he wasn't the team's No. 1 receiver.

One of the best things about adding Stallworth and Anquan Boldin to the roster this season is that it forced Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams to step up their games, and both of those players responded well with good training camps.

Williams and Clayton, when he returns to the lineup, will likely continue to play well in Stallworth's absence, and the Ravens could also move tight end Ed Dickson into that slot. He is big, has speed and is a playmaker.

In no rush to see Jacobs

The Ravens ought to be thankful the New York Giants didn't unleash 264-pound running back Brandon Jacobs on Saturday night. Jacobs rushed six times for 41 yards.

It was apparent that the Ravens wanted no parts of Jacobs, who has punished the Ravens in two previous meetings.

"He just puts his pants on one leg at a time like everybody else," Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis said.

Not really. It's one big, massive leg at a time.

Keeping McGahee best option

The Ravens have said they weren't shopping running back Willis McGahee, but McGahee's name is still being bandied about as possible trade bait.

At this point, it might not be wise to trade McGahee. He came to training camp in great shape with a good attitude. He has played well, and all teams need two good running backs. If the Ravens feel this is their year to challenge for the title, then McGahee should remain on the roster.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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