Mike Preston: New right tackle LeVoir could be a mauler for Ravens

August 22, 2011|By Mike Preston

The Ravens continued to play musical chairs at right tackle Monday, and the latest player they chose to dance with is Mark LeVoir, a pretty big partner at 6 feet 7 and 310 pounds.

The Ravens announced the signing of LeVoir on Sunday, and by Monday afternoon's practice, he was taking most of the repetitions with the first offense. From all indications, the experiment of trying to pencil in rookie Jah Reid, the team's third-round pick out of Central Florida, as the starting right tackle for the season opener on Sept. 11 has ended.

The Ravens have been talking about that possibility since they drafted Reid in April, but the odds were highly improbable, about as likely as Jonathan Ogden coming out of retirement to play left tackle for the Ravens again.

The Ravens, though, were still singing the same tune Monday afternoon.

"We're still evaluating everybody," Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "We'll go with our best five. We just have to let this thing play out for at least a couple weeks."

OK, Cam. Right.

After watching Reid in the first two preseason games, you saw good potential. He played poorly in the opener against the Philadelphia Eagles but improved last week against the Kansas City Chiefs. He still needs to improve his foot speed and spend a strong offseason in the weight room.

If Reid matches up against Pittsburgh outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley in the opener, he'll need more help than left tackle Michael Oher will in attempting to block the Steelers' other great outside linebacker, James Harrison. That would leave only two receivers in passing routes.

The Ravens discovered this strategy didn't work in the 2008 AFC championship game against Pittsburgh.

So, let's forget the rookie head game stuff and get down to business. With LeVoir, the Ravens hope they have found an answer at right tackle. The team has gone through at least 15 right tackles since it moved to Baltimore from Cleveland for the 1996 season, and only about three or four could play.

Reid gives the Ravens hope for the future. LeVoir gives them hope now.

"He asks veteran questions. He knows NFL defenses," Cameron said. "He just has to get accustomed to how we're doing things. He's a veteran football player. We'll find out more about him probably tomorrow and Thursday night."

It would have been nice if the Ravens had signed a big-name tackle, but there weren't any available and the Ravens don't have a lot of salary cap room. With LeVoir, you're getting a player from a prestigious college program (Notre Dame) who has played with one of the league's best coaches (Bill Belichick) and quarterbacks (Tom Brady).

He has been to the playoffs, and can play on the right or left side. He started just three games in his three seasons in New England but had one of the most respected offensive line coaches in the NFL in Dante Scarnecchia.

It's a good pedigree.

"I've been in New England the last few years, and they went in a different direction. I wish them the best of luck," said LeVoir, who was challenging for a starting job with the Patriots before they released him Wednesday. "I was rotating between the two tackles the last two years, but that's history now. I'm happy to be here and want to buy into the Ravens' way. I want to get into my playbook and work hard."

LeVoir said he worked out hard during the offseason and is in good shape. He knew he would get another opportunity to play in the NFL.

After practice Monday, LeVoir wouldn't say whether he was the starter or not.

"I'll leave that up to the coaches," he said. "My job is just to play as hard as I can. I'm just happy to be here and trying to learn how the Ravens do business. I've got a lot of work to do as far as learning new techniques and terminology. There is room for improvement, but the second day is sure better than the first day."

The attitude is fine. After just two days, LeVoir seemed more comfortable at tackle than Reid. He is definitely a better pass blocker, and he comes off the ball with power even though there isn't a lot of explosiveness.

But right tackles are usually maulers, and LeVoir could be one. And if he doesn't turn out as expected, the Ravens can always go back to Plan B, which is to move right guard Marshal Yanda to tackle.

But as of now, the great experiment continues, except LeVoir has replaced Reid. Both have been mentored by Harry Swayne, the Ravens' director of player development. Swayne taught LeVoir when LeVoir was a rookie with the Chicago Bears. After each Ravens practice, Swayne spends time with Reid.

And now, so does LeVoir.

"Harry helped me in my rookie year, and we stayed in touch," LeVoir said. "He has helped me a lot by giving me good feedback. With Jah Reid, we're helping each other learn. I'm helping him try to get acclimated to the NFL, the speed of the game and how it works. He's helping me learn the Ravens' way and how it works.

"I have heard good things about Baltimore. I heard it's a great city, a fun city with a lot of good food, and that's great for an offensive lineman."


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