Notebook: Ravens unveil new-look offensive line

Criticized during preseason for lack of pressure, defense contains Dalton, Green; Lewis, Tucker start well

September 10, 2012|By Aaron Wilson | The Baltimore Sun

Cloaked in secrecy until the days and hours before kickoff Monday night, the Ravens unveiled a reconfigured offensive line.

By instituting a youth movement, the Ravens have transformed what was one of the oldest groups in the league.

During a 44-13 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium, the defending AFC North champions started rookie Kelechi Osemele at right tackle, shifted Michael Oher to left tackle and had converted tackle Ramon Harewood replace
veteran Bobbie Williams, 35, at left guard.

The Ravens' younger line seems to be a fit with the Ravens' high-energy, no-huddle offense.¿

Former Pro Bowl left tackle Bryant McKinnie, 32, was benched with Oher now protecting the blind side of quarterback Joe Flacco.

And the strategy was effective for the most part as Flacco had sufficient time to complete 21 of 29 passes for 299 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 128.4 passer rating.

"It went really great," said Osemele, a second-round draft pick from Iowa State. "The communication was great. We were out there being physical. We set the tempo early and I felt really good about it. I know I had a few missed assignments, but I had the best game I ever had as far as my technique. We're just going to continue to get better."

Pro Bowl runner Ray Rice ran for 68 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries.

Afterward, Rice stated that he didn't even feel sore.

"It's really fun for me, I barely got hit," said Rice, who also caught three passes for 25 yards. "The offensive line is very athletic."

A former sixth-round draft pick from Morehouse, Harewood spent the previous two seasons on injured reserve and underwent knee surgeries.

Now, he's suddenly a starter after impressing the coaching staff with his performance against the St. Louis Rams in the final preseason game. 

"There's still a lot of room for improvement," Harewood said. "I think I held my own. I was definitely hungry after being hurt the past couple years."

Although he was surprisingly replaced in the lineup after being installed as a starter, Williams said he's not upset about his change in status.

"Whatever goes on, it's about the team," Williams said. "We all play a role. The main thing happened, we won. It's just how things roll. It's a big team picture. Everybody is good with that. It's a long season, it's a long season."

The Ravens restructured offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie's contract last week, cutting his salary from $3.2 million to $2.2 million. He thought initially that he might make up the lost $1 million through playing-time incentive clauses, but that won't be the case if the Ravens make these changes permanent.

"I knew this was happening," McKinnie said. "I'm taking it fine. It's definitely a long season, I just have to do what I'm supposed to do. I'm a team player."

It was a tough assignment for the Ravens' offensive line, which allowed three sacks.

Two of those sacks were surrendered to Bengals Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins.

It  only took a few minutes for Atkins to establish his territory against Ravens veteran center Matt Birk.

Atkins steamrolled Birk on a bull-rush up the middle as he lined up directly across from the six-time Pro Bowl center and pushed him into the backfield to sack Flacco.

Birk had trouble in the AFC title game with New England Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork.

"Geno's a great player," Birk said. "He's one of the best."

Birk, 36, is the elder statesman on the line now that four starters are under age 28, including Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, 27, Oher, 26, Harewood, 25, and Osemele, 23.

"The young guys played well," Birk said. "We know what's expected. We have confidence in everybody. They know what to expect and what they have to do to get ready."

Pass rush gets job done

Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata shifted over to nose guard and overwhelmed new Bengals center Jeff Faine, beating him with a quick swim move to sack quarterback Andy Dalton.

"We've  got to get pressure up that middle, especially with Terrell Suggs being gone," said Ngata, who finished with two sacks. "We've got to get to that quarterback and make it easier for our guys in the secondary. Hopefully, I can continue to make plays and make more sacks. We were able to get to Andy Dalton pretty good."

Rookie outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, the Ravens' top draft pick, split a sack with Pernell McPhee.

"It feels great as you can see from the celebration," Upshaw said. "I just want to go in every week and improve on my performance."

Leaner Lewis off to good start

With a diet comprised of healthy juices and plenty of vegetables and a strict exercise regimen, middle linebacker Ray Lewis is down to a lean 235 pounds for the lightest weight since his rookie season.

Lewis' efforts paid dividends Monday as the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year recorded a game-high 14 tackles by the third quarter.

He was extremely active in the open field and had a sack and forced fumble.

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