Finding the proper mix

The vaunted defense should be back to form with an infusion of new members in the secondary, the skilled positions are finally up to par with the rest of the league (I know some of you are saying the Ravens don't have a number one receiver, but this wideout corps is light years better.

At least it's better than a one-time group that featured first-round bust Travis Taylor and the likes of journeymen receivers Marcus Robinson and Frank Sanders), a new coaching staff is in place with a fresh approach, and the quarterback-of-the-future is finally (hopefully) on the roster.

So why aren't the Ravens in the upper-echelon of the NFL if they have this much talent? The answer is quite simple really. Beyond an unsettled starter at quarterback for this season (the quarterback-of-the-future Joe Flacco needs some time to be seasoned), one of the keys to success for long-term stability on offense is a good offensive line. The Ravens don't have to look very far to find the blueprint for "how to turn around an offense 101" - just look within the division at the Cleveland Browns to learn (yes, they normally aren't the model franchise for anything, but I think they got this one right).

Last year, the Browns drafted a premier left tackle (Joe Thomas) and signed a pro bowl guard (Eric Steinbach) to fortify their line and the results were tremendous. The Browns went from 31st in the league on offense in 2006 to eighth in 2007.

While the Ravens haven't invested the same kind of money on the o-line that the Browns have, it doesn't mean that the talent isn't there. The Jonathan Ogden days are coming to an end, but the Ravens are in the midst of forming one of the best guard tandems in the league. Jason Brown was named to Sports Illustrated's All-Pro team last year and Ben Grubbs is certainly an up-and-coming star. Marshal Yanda did a solid job at right tackle last season and provides a lot of versatility.

The major question is who will fill the future hall-of-famer's spot at left tackle. Adam Terry has flashed the ability to man the quarterback's blindside, but he has lacked the intensity it takes to be a good o-lineman. The same goes for possible center Chris Chester.

However, the Ravens have added new offensive line coach, John Matsko, and his old-school attitude may just be what the o-line needs to ascend to the next level. Matsko is known for tutoring many great lineman (his resume speaks for itself), including, Anthony Munoz, Will Shields, Brian Waters, Willie Roaf and Adam Timmerman.

"He [Matsko] brings an attitude to the offense because he's very direct," Brown said. "I've never been around someone with such a penchant for detail. There are some plays where I'll say, ‘Wow, I did a pretty good job,' and he will find something wrong. Nobody's perfect out there, and you know he'll pull every ounce of potential out of you."

In the few practices there have been so far, the Ravens coaching staff has been mixing and matching in order to find the right combination on the o-line. Brown has played some center (his college position) and Yanda has tried center as well, though he is more natural at guard or tackle. The line also consists of the giant 6'9 350 pound Jared Gaither who has loads of talent but lacks maturity (which is why he was a supplemental pick in the first place) and unknown third and fourth round picks, respectively, Oniel Cousins and David Hale, who will also be considered in the rotation.

"It's definitely part of it, in terms of seeing what guys can do," said head coach John Harbaugh about finding chemistry on the offensive line. "And it's showing Cam [Cameron] what these guys can do as a play-caller. If Cam can see this guy pulls better on the left side than the right side, or if a guy has a better reach block on the left side, then that can help his play-calling down the road."

Hopefully, talent plus good coaching equals success.

If, and it's a big if, Baltimore can solve the offensive line puzzle and one of the quarterbacks steps up, then the Ravens may finally be able to be among the NFL's elite… and maybe they can stick around there for a while.

Hank Nathan is a guest columnist and a journalism student at Washington & Lee.


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