Ravens' young offensive line struggles

BALTIMORE -- There was an early moment of full-blown confusion that seemed to foreshadow how the game was going to unfold for the Baltimore Ravens' youthful offensive line. Prior to a third-down play in the first quarter, rookie blockers Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda quickly ran off the field together thinking incorrectly that it was fourth down and time for punter Sam Koch to enter the game.

Plus, keyed-up veteran left guard Jason Brown committed two false starts in the first quarter, including jumping offsides on fourth-and-1 at the St. Louis Rams' 21-yard line. That forced the Ravens to send Matt Stover into the game for a 43-yard field goal attempt, and prompted a heated lecture to Brown from coach Brian Billick.

Ultimately, a line with three rookie blockers and an average age of 23.5 years to form the youngest group of blockers in the NFL, held together in the Ravens' 22-3 victory over the Rams at M&T Bank Stadium.

Baltimore won despite offensive tackles Adam Terry and Jonathan Ogden and center Mike Flynn being out due to injuries.

At times it was ugly, though, with quarterback Kyle Boller sacked twice and hit often. The running game gained just 77 yards on 31 carries for a 2.5 average.

"Everybody was pumping me up as the old man of the line," said Brown, 24, the most experienced lineman with 18 previous starts. "I was trying to set the pace, set the tempo. I played a little out of my head. I calmed down when I said to myself, 'Look, Jason, just play football. Don't try to do anything extra, anything razzle-dazzle.'"

With rookie Jared Gaither (University of Maryland) making his first NFL start and allowing a sack to defensive end Leonard Little that caused Boller to fumble and center Chris Chester flagged for being downfield illegally along with holding, it was a sloppy performance overall.

But that was to be expected with such an inexperienced group.

"It got a little dicey in there," Billick acknowledged. "They put eight or nine guys up there, as much as we've ever played. Beyond physically, mentally, we have to sort through it."

The 6-foot-9, 350-pound Gaither admitted that there was a lot to gather in and react to as he played in his second NFL game.

"I'm trying to find my groove," Gaither said. "Confusion? That's going to be every game. You just have to make adjustments."

The Ravens even lined up reserve offensive tackle Mike Kracalik at tight end in his NFL debut during short-yardage situations because of a hamstring injury to tight end Todd Heap.

"It was pretty amazing to get my first NFL snap at tight end," said Kracalik, who was promoted from the practice squad Saturday along with offensive guard Ikechuku Ndukwe. "I still have stuff to work on. It was a little jittery."

NOTES: Rookie return specialist Yamon Figurs fumbled for the second time this season with the football skidding out of bounds to remain in Baltimore's possession following a 54-yard kickoff return. "I never saw him," said Figurs, who also lined up at wide receiver and was overthrown by Boller. "I just have to go back to practice and do more ball drills and run with the ball high and tucked in no matter where I am on the field." ... Second-year cornerback Derrick Martin recorded his first NFL interception after nearly picking one off during last week's 9-7 win over the San Francisco 49ers. "I was hoping to get one last week, but they threw the fade route," Martin said. "I jumped this route. Samari Rolle stepped out for one play, tapping his helmet, and I was there to make the play."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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