Baltimore Ravens Offensive Line: Who Will Start In 2018?

Flacco to Jacoby Jones at Mile High Stadium to force overtime in the divisional round of the 2012 playoffs. Ray Rice’s impossible ‘4th and 29’ to save the Super Bowl season. It’s the plays made by the world class athletes playing skill positions that fans remember, but football is a game of inches, and those inches are won and lost in the trenches. It’s the offensive lineman that escort running backs to the endzone and buy the quarterback and receiver ample time to connect for a long bomb. You can have all the playmakers in the world, none of it will matter if your front five play like they’re wearing roller skates.

The Ravens offensive line played admirably last season despite injuries to both Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis, the teams starting guards. They essentially missed 2017 in its entirety but should be back to start the season. Pair that with the fact that both starting center Ryan Jensen, who played well enough to become the highest paid ball snapper in the world, and starting right tackle Austin Howard are no longer with the team, and we are left with the very real possibility that only one starter (LT Ronnie Stanley) from last seasons group will man the same spot this season. Thats not to say he’s the only player returning that saw significant snaps last year. James Hurst and Matt Skura filled in at left guard and right guard, respectively, last season. They are both back with the team in 2018, though they are slated to play elsewhere along the line. Hurst is penciled in at right tackle, while Skura will be given the first crack at replacing Jensen. But is that what’s best for the offense moving forward? Let’s take a look at all five positions along the line and the starting candidates for each.

LEFT TACKLE

Potential starters: Ronnie Stanley

Longshots: None

Left tackle is one of two positions that is not in question. Ronnie Stanley has been the guy ever since he was selected sixth overall in the 2016 NFL Draft and he’s lived up to that draft position for the most part. It’s comforting for Flacco to have a guy of Stanley’s caliber and stature protecting his blindside, a position that hasn’t really been settled ever since Johnathan Ogden retired in June of 2008.

LEFT GUARD

Potential starters: Alex Lewis, James Hurst

Longshots: Nico Siragusa

Both Lewis and Siragusa are returning from spending 2017 on injured reserve. Hurst played here in 2017 and looked his best. Who starts at this position will really be determined by a domino effect from center and right tackle as well as the health of the guys returning from injury.

CENTER

Potential starters: Matt Skura, Alex Lewis

Longshots: Bradley Bozeman

Skura will get the first shot to prove himself as the guy to replace Jensen. Although Skura has never started a game at center in the NFL, he was a First-team All ACC center in his college days at Duke. He was just okay as Yandas replacement at left guard last year, but got better as the season went along and certainly was not as bad as the 37.3 grade from Pro Football Focus would suggest. It took Jensen some time to get comfortable at center last season, and it will likely be the same with Skura. I expect Lewis to keep taking reps at center throughout training camp as insurance.

Bozeman likely needs another year. Coming out of Alabama and practicing against professional caliber defensive lineman, he’s more pro ready than one might think a sixth round pick would be. Even so, I don’t see any scenario where he is the best option in 2018.

RIGHT GUARD

Potential Starters: Marshal Yanda

Longshots: None

Right guard is the other position that is not up for competition. Marshal Yanda will man the position once again after missing 14 games last season with a broken ankle. Getting the six time Pro-Bowler back on he line will be a substantial upgrade over Skura.

RIGHT TACKLE

Potential Starters: James Hurst, Orlando Brown Jr., Alex Lewis

Longshots: Jermaine Eluemenor

The Ravens are looking to Hurst to step back out to right tackle and do a better job than he did in 2016. I doubt that they have full confidence in him considering they spent their third round pick on Orlando Brown Jr. I think the Ravens front office is hoping that Brown Jr. ends up being the guy. He’s coming off a dominant college career at Oklahoma and would have been a first round pick if not for a bad showing at the combine. That would allow Hurst to potentially play guard. Lewis may see some looks here as well, as he played right tackle as a rookie.

LINEUP SCENARIOS

Now that we’ve taken a look at each position individually, we can take a look at the offensive line as a whole. The players that ultimately end up as the week one starters will be whichever combination gels best as a single unit and has the fewest weaknesses as a whole. This is where things get interesting.

I believe the dominoes start to fall at right tackle and center. It will come down to if Brown Jr. is ready to begin his career as a starter or if he needs time to develop. If he looks at least equal to Hurst (a strong possibility considering how much better Hurst looked in 2017 at guard than he did in years prior at both left and right tackle), then I think he becomes the right tackle. In this case, two different scenarios emerge:

Scenario #1

LT Ronnie Stanley

LG Alex Lewis

C Matt Skura

RG Marshal Yanda

RT Orlando Brown Jr.

In this scenario, Matt Skura looks good at center. James Hurst then becomes the top backup for the tackle and guard positions, which makes him an extremely valuable commodity. Now, if Skura struggles at center, we might see scenario two:

Scenario #2

LT Ronnie Stanley

LG James Hurst

C Alex Lewis

RG Marshal Yanda

RT Orlando Brown Jr.

I like this lineup on paper. If Skura struggles in camp, the team has already taken a look at Alex Lewis at center. Hurst played decent last season at left guard and it’s the position that best suits him.

In the case that Zeus Jr. needs more time to develop, two more scenarios arise:

Scenario #3

LT Ronnie Stanley

LG Alex Lewis

C Matt Skura

RG Marshal Yanda

RT James Hurst

This is kind of the default lineup, or the combination that the Ravens have given the first shot. This lineup will be the starting lineup if Hurst shows that he’s improved as a tackle and Skura looks comfortable making calls.

Scenario #4

LT Ronnie Stanley

LG Matt Skura

C Alex Lewis

RG Marshal Yanda

RT James Hurst

This is the same lineup as scenario #3, but with Alex Lewis at center and Skura out at left guard. I believe Skura will will show enough by the end of preseason to start at center, Lewis will be the guy if that doesn’t happen.

Scenario #5

LT Ronnie Stanley

LG James Hurst

C Matt Skura

RG Marshal Yanda

RT Alex Lewis

If neither Brown Jr. nor Hurst have a good camp, you may see Hurst move back in to left guard where he seems more comfortable, with Alex Lewis kicking back outside for the first time since his rookie season.

VERDICT

The lineup I hope to see take the field at M&T Bank Stadium on September 9 would be the one highlighted in scenario #2. To me, this is the line that puts forth the highest sum of talent from left to right. But the individual talent won’t matter if they don’t play well as a single entity. If another combination proves to gel better as a whole, that’s who you’ll see lineup against the Buffalo Bills week one.


<noscript><a href=”https://polldaddy.com/poll/10025193/”>Which offensive line scenario would you like to see this year?</a></noscript>

One thought on “Baltimore Ravens Offensive Line: Who Will Start In 2018?

  1. Max-SlamDown Sports

    Sounds like 2018 should be a much better year for the offensive line, barring injury. Ronnie Stanley is a true star at his position; I’m sure Flacco was doing backflips when they drafted him.

    Like

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