Ravens' Harbaugh: 'We have to upgrade the offensive line'

Baltimore coach discusses free agency, running backs, Flacco, Rice and much more

March 27, 2012|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

PALM BEACH, Fla. — — Three weeks into free agency, the Ravens have retained starting linebacker Jameel McClain, added to their defensive back depth and upgraded their special teams. But one of their glaring offseason needs remains virtually untouched.

"We have to upgrade the offensive line," Ravens coach John Harbaugh saud during the owners meetings Tuesday at The Breakers hotel in Palm Beach, Fla. "I don't even know if we have a full complement of linemen to be on our 53-man roster right now."

The Ravens did re-sign veteran center Matt Birk, but they have yet to replace Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs, who signed with the New Orleans Saints a couple of days into free agency. Jah Reid, primarily a right tackle who played very little during his rookie campaign, currently sits atop the left guard depth chart.

Birk, left tackle Bryant McKinnie, right guard Marshal Yanda and right tackle Michael Oher are returning starters from a group that Harbaugh admitted had "real issues" at times, particularly when Grubbs missed an extended stretch with a toe injury.

Behind them, the only other linemen on the Ravens' roster are Reid, guard Howard Barbieri, tackle Ramon Harewood and centers Cecil Newton and Justin Boren. None have extensive NFL experience.

"We don't have our five starters set. We have guys where [you say], 'Can they play a position or not?' We're talking about Jah. Can he play left guard? So we have to get better there just for the fact that we don't really have the numbers there right now," Harbaugh said. "The thing I've learned over the years, it starts with the offensive line on offense. The quarterback is obviously critically important but if you don't have an offensive line, you can forget about it."

Harbaugh promised that team officials will be "turning over every stone" to try to bolster the unit. They are still planning on signing a veteran guard to compete with Reid, but most of their free-agent options are underwhelming. Jake Scott (Tennessee Titans), Bobbie Williams (Cincinnati Bengals) and Kyle Kosier (Dallas Cowboys) are three of the more accomplished options. However, the Ravens don't have a whole lot of salary cap space to accommodate a veteran.

"We still have a little bit of room," Harbaugh said. "Off the top of my head, my math says we've got a few dollars left so we can do something. If we need to do some things we can be creative."

While the Ravens obviously value adding some experience to the offensive line, they also still have the draft to fill holes. They have been linked with their 29th overall pick to Wisconsin center Peter Konz, who can also play guard. Harbaugh said that he doesn't think it's a deep draft class for offensive linemen, but there are several quality tackles who could be available to them with their first couple of picks.

The Ravens lack a long-term answer at left tackle. McKinnie is entering the final season on his contract and he's struggled with his conditioning. The Ravens met with him a couple of weeks ago to see where was at and team officials saw enough positive signs to pay him a required $500,000 roster bonus.

"He had done a good job. He'd been working in the offseason, he's training. He's in the same shape he was in when he left," Harbaugh said. "We want to improve that from now until the start of next season. It's going to be really important what he does between now and when the offseason program starts on through June that he gets in the kind of shape he needs to be in … It's not like he's a big, fat guy. He's a big guy. We still want him to be able to move a little better and get a little quicker."

Harbaugh also touched on a variety of other topics during the media session:

• Harbaugh abstains from asking general manager Ozzie Newsome and vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty for regular updates about the contract negotiations with quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice and he doesn't feel that anything is imminent, but he said that he's gotten "positive vibes" about how negotiations are going.

Even if a deal doesn't get done with Rice, who got the franchise tag earlier this month, Harbaugh said that he doesn't expect the running back to hold out.

"I don't know what their strategy will be, if they feel like they even need a strategy. That kind of goes back to the agent more than the player. But Ray Rice is a man," Harbaugh said. "He loves football. He wants to be in there with his teammates. I'm hoping he'll be there from Day One. I would expect him to be there from Day One. But if he's not, I'm not going to hold it against him as a coach. We just need the best Ray Rice that's possible for the first game."

• With Ricky Williams' surprise retirement, the Ravens plan on giving second-year running backs — Anthony Allen and Damien Berry — every opportunity to play roles behind Rice. However, Harbaugh indicated that the team is still planning on adding some ball carriers to the mix.

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