Hauling buckets of grain, performing back-breaking chores, pitching out calf stalls at the family dairy farm later devoted to raising pigs, Marshal Yanda built his legendary toughness. Growing up on the farm outside of rural Anamosa, Iowa, the Baltimore Ravens' gritty offensive guard would rise at dawn to tend to the animals. And the farm work became a competition with his older sister, Katie, before and after school. "We always worked hard, and that pretty much set the foundation of my work ethic," Yanda said. "That's how I go about my day, working hard for the things that you want."
Yanda grew up four-wheeling, bouncing on a trampoline, go-kart racing and playing basketball.
He later emerged as a scholarship football player and captain of the Iowa Hawkeyes football team following a detour at a junior college after he didn't apply himself academically in high school.
Today, Yanda has established himself as one of the top offensive guards in the game. He returned to his natural right guard spot this year after signing a five-year, $32 million contract that included a $10 million signing bonus.
Engulfing defensive linemen with a powerful hand punch and leg drive, the 6-foot-3, 315-pounder has provided strong blocking for the sixth-highest scoring offense in the league.
Every snap is a heavyweight fight with Yanda, who transforms football into a brawl with his go-for-the-throat mentality as he plays to the echo of the whistle.
"He's one of the toughest guys I know," right offensive tackle Michael Oher said. "I know if I had to be stuck in an alley and had to pick one person to be with, I would pick Marshal to watch my back. I love playing besides him.
"If I have a big game, it's because of him. If I'm having a good season, it's because of Marshal. If he don't make the Pro Bowl, I'm going to be pissed."
Capable of playing either offensive guard or tackle, Yanda tore three ligaments in his right knee against the Indianapolis Colts three years ago. He regained his leg strength through a grueling rehabilitation.
Three seasons later, the former third-round draft pick brings a sturdy presence to the line of scrimmage.
"You always want to try to be physical," Yanda said. "They instill that in offensive linemen. You've always got to be physical and try to really dominate guys."
Yanda led a lot of the interference for Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice during the Ravens' 24-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
Rice gained a career-high 204 yards and scored a touchdown, and Baltimore set a franchise record with 55 rushing attempts. The Ravens rushed for 290 yards, the third-most in franchise history.
In particular, Yanda's ability to pull and kick out defensive ends and linebackers was a pivotal factor in Rice having gaping holes to roam through.
"If you want to talk about every single little technique, I can't think of one that he's not good at," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He executes every technique very well. He's really strong, really strong, great feet, a good bender.
"But that's not what makes him the player he is. I think it's just his personality, who he is as a person. Nobody works harder than Marshal. Nobody cares more."
The lore about Yanda reaches beyond stonewalling Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley or blocking defensive ends that tower above him.
On cash bet during his rookie year, Yanda supposedly took three Taser shots to the chest.
The story gets better every year since it was actually a stun gun that former cornerback Samari Rolle once brought to work.
"It wasn't like a cop's Taser, and it wasn't that high voltage since Samari had the batteries on low," Yanda said. "It wasn't bad at all. They built it up where I got tased. Hey, it was a bet."
High-intensity and relentless, Yanda is a mauling blocker despite a lack of ideal size.
The avid outdoorsman plays with a pronounced nasty streak.
"It all starts with being physical," Yanda said. "You have to think aiming point, assignment and landmarks when you're blocking."
Other than his bank account, money hasn't changed Yanda's lifestyle.
He remains a modest individual whose biggest splurge was purchasing a larger house near the Ravens' training complex with a backyard for his wife, Shannon, and their young son, Graham.
"It's not necessarily about the money, it's more about pride in the game and doing my job for the team," Yanda said. "The money is great, but when I'm out on the field, I'm thinking about making blocks so my team can win and doing my part to the best of my ability. I'm really happy to be here."
Ravens notebook: Freeney, Mathis headline Colts' pass rush
Cundiff misses practice with calf injury, Grubbs returns
The winless Indianapolis Colts still have a formidable pass rush headlined by defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
Speedy and explosive off the edge, they have combined for six sacks in their past four games against the Baltimore Ravens.
Each has 5 ½ sacks this season heading into Sunday's game at M&T Bank Stadium.
"They're great players, they still are," coach John Harbaugh said. "They've got plenty of good players around those guys. That defense is very fast. We have not ever fared well against them since we've been here in 2008. We've turned the ball over, we didn't run the ball on them, we've gotten sacked, we've had plays for negative yards. It's been a theme against that defense. So, we've got our work cut out for us. We understand that."
Offensive tackles Michael Oher and Bryant McKinnie are expected to get blocking assistance against the pass rushing tandem.
McKinnie has battled Freeney going all the way back to his college days, shutting the Colts' star out when he was at Syracuse and McKinnie was at the University of Miami.
"Yeah, Bryant is probably one of my first marquee matchups," Freeney said during a conference call with Baltimore reporters. "He did a great job. I had a bunch of sacks going into that game, he had never given up one. They ended up winning the game, and I ended up not getting a sack.
"From a historical standpoint, me and him go back, and I had a game with him when he was with the Vikings. I had a couple of good games against him. Bryant is Bryant, and there is a reason why he is still playing after 30."
Freeney has three sacks in two games against McKinnie during his time with the Vikings.
The Ravens have allowed only three sacks in the past four games.
Freeney and Mathis are a tough matchup, though.
"Those guys get after it," Oher said. "We know what they can do. We have to get them blocked and use our technique."
The Ravens know what they're facing and are plotting a strategy to slow down Freeney and Mathis.
"They have two of, maybe the best pass-rush combination, in the history of the game, but one of them," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "Those guys, they are tremendous. They create problems. They are built for speed.
"They don't stay blocked. They have a sound scheme. They get people to the ball and have two of the premier pass-rushing guys in the history of the game. What more could you want?"
GRUBBS BACK AT PRACTICE: One day after being held out of practice, left offensive guard Ben Grubbs participated fully Thursday.
Grubbs missed seven games earlier this season with a right turf toe injury.
Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff didn't practice Thursday due to a left calf problem. That's his plant leg that's affected.
He practiced Wednesday.
All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis and center Matt Birk didn't practice for the second consecutive day.
Lewis has been sidelined for three consecutive games with a right turf toe injury and is expected to miss Sunday's game.
Birk hurt his shoulder against the Cleveland Browns, but has downplayed the severity of the problem.
Cornerback Chris Carr (back) didn't practice for the second day in a row and is expected to miss his third consecutive game.
Rookie running back Anthony Allen (hamstring) participated fully.
The Colts upgraded linebackers Pat Angerer (knee) and Ernie Sims (toe) to limited participation after not practicing Wednesday.
Freeney participated fully after missing one practice for non-injury reasons.
Tight end Dallas Clark (fibula) participated fully and is on track to return after missing the past three games.
Wide receiver Reggie Wayne, Mathis and center Jeff Saturday were rested.
Not practicing for the Colts: linebacker A.J. Edds (ankle) and wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez (groin).
Linebackers Pat Angerer (knee) and Ernie Sims (toe) were limited.
Participating fully: tight end Brody Eldridge (hand) and fullback Ryan Mahaffey (concussion).
RED-ZONE STRUGGLES: The Ravens have dipped to 22rd in the NFL in red-zone scoring percentage.
They've scored only 19 touchdowns in 41 trips inside opponents' 20-yard lines.
Whether they try quarterback sneaks with Joe Flacco, Ray Rice runs or throwing the football, nothing has been effective very often.
The Ravens have scored points on 90.2 percent of their trips to the red zone, but scoring is generally treated as a given. And Baltimore has settled for 18 field goals.
"I don't think there are any excuses," Cameron said. "We have to execute better, and we have gone against some good defenses down there. I'd say it's that simple. We'll execute better, and we have to make sure we can get that done in critical situations."
The Ravens went 2 for 5 in red-zone opportunities against the Cleveland Browns, making their 24-10 win closed than it needed to be.
"A couple of the teams we've played lately are playing great red-zone defense, but that's not going to be a reason for us not to do well," Harbaugh said. "We did what we had to do the last couple of games down there. Heck yeah, we want to score more touchdowns down there all the time."
The Ravens stumbled against the San Francisco 49ers on a quarterback draw from Flacco that appeared to be a busted play when no one got open.
The Ravens resorted to having Rice throw a touchdown to tight end Ed Dickson on a halfback option pass against the Seattle Seahawks.
"We have to execute better, just as a group in terms of touchdowns," Cameron said. "We want to score touchdowns, but you have to come away with points, keep momentum, kick the ball off, put our defense back out there, don't turn it over. Here down the stretch, we need to start getting more touchdowns. I think everybody understands that, and that's what we'll try to get done."
QUICK HITS: All of Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff's misses have come on the road this season, including a pair of misfires against the Browns in sloppy, windy conditions. "The surface at M&T Stadium is great," special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. "That makes a big difference for kickers. One of the things that people overlook sometimes, when they're evaluating that concept, is the surface. They just look at the weather and say, ‘Well, there's wind, and there's cold temperatures. That means it's a bad place to kick.' That's not necessarily the case. Now, when a kicker is trying to figure out how to kick a particular kick, if he can trust his plant foot, it makes a big difference. If he can't trust his plant foot, then he's got to make some adjustments. I think that's probably the thing that you see at our stadium. The surface is good."
Cornerback Lardarius Webb returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown against the Browns. Here's what Rosburg saw on the play: "Well, Lardarius made a great play to begin with. We got a number of good holdups at the line of scrimmage. Edgar Jones had a knockdown; it was really a physical block. Then, Emanuel Cook had a good holdup at the line and ended up getting his guy down field. It was a middle base return, so we were able to take care of the middle of it first. That created some space and that allowed him to get started. We had a number of good blocks at the top of the return, too."
Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano has been working on the communication issues in the secondary that have plagued the Ravens in recent weeks. "It always comes down to, especially back there, if you make a mistake up front, it may cost you a yard or two," Pagano said. "A guy gets hooked, three-technique gets hooked or knocked out of a gap, or a linebacker misfits, it means a couple yards. But back there, it could mean six [points]. So, just put a big point of emphasis on it like usual, and this week more than any, these guys are more than capable of beating you.
They've done it before, and they've got big receivers outside and a tight end, so we've got to do a great job of communicating and being on the same page. If we do that, then we should be fine."
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