Ravens' Grubbs is a natural on the left

OWINGS MILLS -- Moving rapidly several yards to his left, Ben Grubbs sprinted downfield to run interference for running back Willis McGahee. The Baltimore Ravens' offensive guard walled off linebackers pursuing the Pro Bowl runner during a recent minicamp, effectively creating enough room for McGahee to bolt ahead for a first down.

It was a familiar sequence for Grubbs, the team's first-round draft pick last year who garnered some all-rookie notice in a dozen starts at right guard.

It wasn't a coincidence that Grubbs looked so comfortable lining up at left guard because it's his natural position and the spot where he emerged as one of the top blockers in the nation at Auburn in making 37 consecutive starts.

"The coaches are trying me at left guard right now, and whatever they want, I'll give it to them," Grubbs said. "It's a position that I'm used to playing and I like it there. In the long run, I'll be able to play left or right. Most good guards can do that, and that's what I'm setting out to be."

As the Ravens resume a voluntary passing camp today at their training complex, Grubbs is a major part of a big transition on the offensive line. He's being counted on to emerge as an anchor on the left side.

"Ben Grubbs is going to be pretty good," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.

Not only is the line in flux due to All-Pro left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden's anticipated retirement with Jared Gaither and Adam Terry vying to replace him, but several players could be changing positions.

With Grubbs expected to shift to the left side, left guard Jason Brown, the most experienced returning lineman besides Ogden with 29 career starts, has been playing center with the first-team offense.

Plus, last year's starting right tackle Marshal Yanda could wind up moving to right guard if rookie Oniel Cousins is capable of becoming an immediate starter. The coaching staff has also experimented with Yanda at center, where Chris Chester is another potential starting candidate.

It's a lot to absorb for a young line.

"Definitely, I think next to the quarterback, we have the hardest job in my mind," said Grubbs, who was drafted with the 29th overall selection last year. "It's a lot of information to pick up and apply on the field. Each day, we try to get better by watching film and making the correct adjustments."

Another change is adjusting to old-school offensive line coach John Matsko, a new arrival on John Harbaugh's staff who has previously coached the likes of Anthony Munoz, Will Shields, Willie Roaf, Brian Waters and Adam Timmerman.

Matsko is a demanding mentor who's entering his 35th year as a coach and his 17th year in the NFL.

"Coach Matsko is doing a tremendous job," Grubbs said. "He's so detailed in everything that we do. He makes the appropriate corrections.

"He's a hard coach. He expects things to be done the right way. We still need to get better, but the sky is the limit for the offensive line."

Grubbs seems to have an equally bright future. At 6-foot-3, 315 pounds, he combines power, size, speed, technique and intelligence.

Although Grubbs had a strong rookie season where he proved he was capable of tracking down linebackers in the open field and squaring off with big defensive linemen, he sees a lot of room for improvement.

"Just being consistent, that's my biggest problem," Grubbs said. "I play well one game or a couple plays, then I fall off. I just need to keep it up."

During the offseason conditioning program, Grubbs has added mass and strength to prepare for all the wrestling matches at the line of scrimmage.

Competing in the AFC North, Grubbs often encounters massive nose guards like the Pittsburgh Steelers' Casey Hampton and the Cleveland Browns' Shaun "Big Baby" Rogers.

"I think I'm big and strong enough," Grubbs said. "Of course, I can get bigger and stronger. This year, it's about being smart and putting my body in the right position to use my strength and size to the best of my abilities to be in the right place at the right time. I would love to eventually have a career like Will Shields."

NOTE: Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, the team's first-round draft pick, is practicing this week after being absent at last week's passing camp due to an NFL-NCAA academic regulation.

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


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