Ravens planning for post J.O. era

OWINGS MILLS -- At the dawn of a projected post Jonathan Ogden era, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh is looking to usher in a smooth transition on the offensive line.

During his initial evaluation of a group of young blockers that features offensive guards Jason Brown and Ben Grubbs, the first-year coach found himself pleasantly surprised about the returning talent.

"I think the one thing that really jumps out is the offensive line," Harbaugh said. "I think it's really got a chance to be really tough, physical. They're athletic."

Of course, the biggest question facing the Ravens' offensive line is having to likely replace Ogden, an 11-time Pro Bowl selection who's leaning toward retirement.

Ravens open preseason against Patriots OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens will kick off the preseason against stiff competition, facing off with the New England Patriots on the road.

Although an exact date hasn't been determined, it will fall somewhere between Aug. 7 and Aug. 11.

The Ravens will host the Minnesota Vikings at M&T Bank Stadium between Aug. 14 and Aug. 18 followed by a road game against the St. Louis Rams between Aug. 21 and Aug. 25 before concluding the preseason at home against the Atlanta Falcons Aug. 28.

"It's exciting to know who we'll face in the preseason," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "This is the first step to solidifying our team. We've got some great opponents that will test us early, including an always-strong New England squad on the road.

"The preseason is a terrific opportunity to develop your team and its character. This schedule will help us lay a solid foundation."

The Vikings game marks Harbaugh's first game in Baltimore since being hired in January to replace former coach Brian Billick.

"We're really looking forward to playing in front of our fans for the first time when we host Minnesota," he said. "M&T Bank Stadium is always electric, and everybody knows what Ravens fans are all about. It'll be exciting to feel their energy and passion."

The top candidates to start at left tackle are Adam Terry, a 6-foot-8, 330-pound former second-round pick from Syracuse who started nine games last season, and Jared Gaither.

Terry is expected to open training camp as the starter.

"I think they should be nearly ready," Harbaugh said of Terry and Gaither. "In the heat of battle, a lot of that process is going to be under fire.

"There's going to be some glitches. There's going to be some things that are frustrating, but I think we're all going to have to say that's part of the process."

Gaither is a massive former University of Maryland standout whom Baltimore drafted in the NFL supplemental draft last summer. Although Gaither, 22, needs more seasoning after playing in six games as a rookie, it's hard to find someone that's 6-9, 350 pounds with his ability to move.

Gaither drew praise during training camp last year for how he manhandled linebacker Terrell Suggs during pass-rush drills, but didn't fare nearly as well in games.

A former basketball player, Gaither only began playing football as a senior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt and played just two seasons in College Park before academic problems prompted him to leave school early.

"Gaither is a wild card," Harbaugh said. "He's got the tools, but, then again, he's got a long way to go."

If Ogden retires, Brown would become the Ravens' most experienced lineman. The 6-3, 320-pounder started all 16 games last season at left guard and was named to Sports Illustrated's All-Pro team.

Entering his fourth season, Brown, 24, has started 29 games and has established a reputation as a hard-nosed, powerful blocker who's hard to budge at the line of scrimmage.

"He's explosive," Harbaugh said. "He's our best power lifter on deadlifts and hang-cleans."

Drafted in the first round last year out of Auburn, Grubbs started a dozen games at right guard and drew some all-rookie notice. He's capable of tracking down linebackers downfield and anchoring against big defensive tackles.

"Ben Grubbs is going to be pretty good," said Harbaugh, who was also complimentary of Marshal Yanda's work during 12 starts at right tackle.

Rather than execute a line shuffle, the Ravens plan to plug in former second-round pick Chris Chester at center to replace veteran Mike Flynn, who was cut last month.

Veteran offensive line coach John Matsko will be coaching one of the youngest lines in the NFL.

"When you watch the tape, there's a lot of good, young players," Harbaugh said. "There's a lot of raw material there."

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

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