Ravens' Anderson, Rabach competing at right guard

OWINGS MILLS – With short, choppy steps, Casey Rabach seals off defensive linemen with his hands moving rapidly like a martial artist before searching for linebackers to block.<br><br> When Bennie Anderson lines up at right offensive guard for the Baltimore Ravens, it often becomes a physics equation: mass plus force equals a gaping hole for Pro Bowl runner Jamal Lewis to scamper through.<br>

A starter for the last three seasons, Anderson is attempting to fend off the challenge of Rabach, a versatile former third-round draft pick.

The Ravens' dilemma centers around a choice of contrasting styles: maintaining the status quo and physicality on the right side with the 6-foot-5, 345-pound Anderson next to massive tackle Orlando "Zeus" Brown or upgrading the athleticism of the line by inserting the 6-4, 301-pound Rabach.

"Casey can wear you down like a gnat, and Bennie can just lean on you," said Brown, who's 6-7 and 365 pounds. "Bennie is stronger and Casey is littler, but more flexible and has more technique. Competing is good for our tempo. Let the better man win."

The Ravens are experimenting with several players in the interior line, including Rabach at center, left and right guard along with Damion Cook. As a four-day mandatory minicamp closes today, starting center Mike Flynn will take some repetitions at guard.

Primarily, though, a contest at right guard is shaping up between Anderson, 27, and Rabach, 26.

"They're going to compete," offensive line coach Jim Colletto said. "Both are good players, but there's a size differential obviously. Casey has a little better quickness. All of that has a bearing, but it's a question of who performs best snap after snap after snap.

"Last year, when they both played, they had times they did good things and not-so good things. I don't have one complaint about the effort or how tough they are."

Both players are restricted free agents playing for the low tender of $628,000 and are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents after this season.

Depending upon how this season goes, the outcome of a positional battle in training camp and future interest on the open market, one or both linemen could be playing their final seasons in Baltimore.

"We're battling for a job, but you can't really worry about a contract because that's what agents are for," said Anderson, who went undrafted out of Tennessee State.

Anderson is accustomed to competition, having unexpectedly forged a starting job with the Ravens in 2001 following their win in Super Bowl XXX. He has started 44 games in three seasons after a brief stint as a middle school teacher.

He is a rare survivor from the XFL, the defunct football league founded by wrestling impresario Vince McMahon where he played for the Chicago Enforcers. 

Last season, Anderson started 15 games as Lewis rushed for a league-high 2,066 yards as Baltimore won the AFC North title behind the top-ranked running game in the NFL.

"Nothing has ever been handed to me," Anderson said. "Competition isn't new to me, or Casey. Casey is probably one of the most athletic linemen in the NFL. I'm more of a power guy."

Colletto said the team would like Anderson to shed a few pounds before training camp. Anderson is listed at 345, but he estimates his current weight at 356 pounds.

Rabach was an All-American and All-Big Ten Conference selection at center and guard at Wisconsin before being drafted 92nd overall by Baltimore in 2001. In three seasons, though, he has started only seven games. 

"This year is definitely a big year for me to break out and show the coaches what I can do," Rabach said. "The last couple of practices, the coaches have given me ample opportunity to prove that I'm viable to play one of those positions."

Under one scenario, Flynn could move back to guard and Rabach could play center. Rabach admits that he's undersized in today's super-sized NFL.

Rabach can leap well enough to dunk a basketball without a running start.

"Bennie is much bigger than me, so I've got a disadvantage there," Rabach said. "My strengths are my athletic ability, strength and quickness. I've got to exploit those abilities that I have."

NOTES: During one drill, the defense intercepted three consecutive passes followed by an incompletion with safety Ed Reed nabbing two Kyle Boller passes. "They were having a good time," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. … Offensive tackle Orlando Brown returned to practice after missing the previous day for personal reasons. … Bart Scott has been filling in at inside linebacker while Ray Lewis recuperates from thumb surgery. … Billick on the improved conditioning of linebacker Terrell Suggs: "He looks excellent. Remember, last year this time he couldn't get through a drill."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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