Ravens rookie offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele says the coaching staff has told him he would play a very substantial role this season.
In fact, they should start him at left guard in the season opener Monday against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Ravens have shuffled offensive linemen throughout the preseason, and the No. 1 group should be Bryant McKinnie at left tackle, Matt Birk at center, Marshal Yanda at right guard, Michael Oher at right tackle and Osemele.
It wasn't the upgrade Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome promised at the end of last season, but it's a good, solid starting five.
As of now, the Ravens still might start veteran Bobbie Williams at left guard, but there is no doubt which player had the better preseason.
Two years ago, this wouldn't have been close because Williams was healthy and still playing at a high level. But it is clear that his right ankle still gives him problems, and he might not be 100 percent for a while.
If the Ravens start Osemele, Williams gets time to heal and Osemele gets on-the-job training. After playing right tackle against a high-motor player like St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long on Thursday night, it was obvious Osemele isn't ready for so much speed from players on the outside.
Even he admits his preference is to play guard, where he can get help.
"I'm pretty sure I will be moved around for depth reasons and experience reasons because they want me to be versatile," Osemele said. "But as the season progresses and we kind of know our guys, then I probably will be at one spot or another."
"At first coming into it, I had a preference for tackle," he said. "Now that I play guard, I enjoy it. It's a little easier. I just don't have the range, and I have more difficulties than at guard. You don't face the same type of athletes that you do at tackle."
With Osemele, the Ravens might have found the prototype. They had one of the NFL's best ever for 12 seasons beginning in 1996 with left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden. But at 6 feet 9 and 345 pounds, Ogden was an aberration because he was graceful, yet overpowering, and his arm span was so long that few defensive linemen could get into his body or run around him.
Osemele (6-5, 333 pounds) has a similar wing span and Baltimore fans may have seen the last of short-armed offensive linemen like Oher and Yanda.
The Ravens have resolved an issue with Oher in training camp. He's not a left tackle, but he is a solid, good right tackle.
Oher has been the perfect player for the Ravens in his four seasons with the club. He always practices and never complains, even though the Ravens have shifted him from left to right several times.
Oher plays hard and has that nasty demeanor, but just doesn't have the physical attributes (long arms, long torso) or the finesse to play against the other team's top pass rusher every week.
Plus, the Oher and Yanda tag team on the right side is pretty impressive. Both are strong and physical. They work well with each other because they have played together before.
The left side has a hole.
When the Ravens lost Ben Grubbs to New Orleans via free agency, Ravens coach John Harbaugh knew that replacing the Pro Bowl left guard would be tough to do.
A team can go into the regular season with one questionable lineman, possibly two. But there will be trouble when the number reaches three.
There are questions surrounding the age and physical conditioning of McKinnie and Birk, but Birk is a gamer and McKinnie can still outplay 70-to-80 percent of players who will line up against him.
There are a lot of questions about Osemele as well, but not nearly as there are with Williams and his banged up ankle. Right now, it makes more sense to start a healthy Osemele on two legs than an injured Williams on one.
Osemele's substantial role should begin as expected Monday night. And if the Ravens are smart, it should be as a starter instead of as a replacement.
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