Offensive line in flux

OWINGS MILLS -- Leaning over the football, Jason Brown swiveled his helmet to look over the defense while quarterback Kyle Boller called out his cadence. The vantage point for Brown and the rest of the Baltimore Ravens' offensive line has undergone a dramatic change.

It's an entirely different landscape for a line in transition under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

With Brown shifting to center from left guard, Ben Grubbs moving to right guard, former starting right tackle Marshal Yanda operating inside at right guard, Adam Terry the frontrunner to play right tackle when he recovers from ankle surgery and Jared Gaither penciled in at left tackle, it's a completely altered starting lineup from a year ago.

Ushering in the anticipated post Jonathan Ogden era since the All-Pro left tackle is expected to announce his retirement soon, the Ravens are counting on Brown to assume a pivotal role in returning to the position he excelled at for the University of North Carolina.

"Number one, he's a great leader," Cameron said. "It's an easier transition than you might think because that's the position he played in college. We felt like it was natural to move him back, because the center is the leader of your offensive line.

"Right now, he's the leader of our offensive line. Those guys are very young, and he is a veteran guy."

Brown owns the distinction of being the most experienced returning lineman with 29 career starts.

The 6-foot-3, 320-pounder has also gotten in better condition, losing nearly 30 pounds. Shedding the rust at snapping and making line calls are the biggest obstacles.

"Of course, it's not going to be perfect and come back overnight, but it has been a smoother transition than what I expected," Brown said. "It's coming back very fast."

Selected to Sports Illustrated's All-Pro team last year, Brown is a powerful, stout lineman who has regained his quickness since dropping weight.

He's also looking to become more assertive as a leader as he replaces veteran Mike Flynn, who was cut during the offseason.

"It's a different mindset knowing that eyes are looking my way for direction," Brown said. "It's not only leading by example. I need to speak up more vocally.

"When you get a little bit older, it's time to let your voice be known. I'm definitely speaking up for the guys."

Of course, there's no greater test than halting a big defensive tackle in his tracks. Especially a 6-4, 340-pound powerhouse like Ravens teammate Haloti Ngata.

"In situations like that, it shows your measure as a man," Brown said. "Can you get that job done?"

Meanwhile, the Ravens seem to be intent on lining up Terry at right tackle. The coaches want to install the 6-8, 337-pound former second-round draft pick from Syracuse there once he's completely healthy. Terry underwent surgery in January and has been limited in drills.

"It's Adam Terry's job when he gets back," Cameron said. "I know that when he gets healthy, he's a good ballplayer. I liked him coming out of college. I liked him before he got hurt last year. I see him as a right tackle who could play left tackle, but when we get him back he'll be a right tackle."

Terry is considered a natural left tackle, and hasn't excelled on the right side in the past. Unfamiliar footwork and dealing with bull rushers were the primary setbacks.

Now, Terry apparently has no trepidation about playing right tackle.

"I'm either going to play or I'm not, so it's all up to me," said Terry, who has made significant gains in his upper-body strength. "Maybe last year the footwork was something that was there, but not anymore. It's either I play or I'm not going to be here."

Yanda, who has also lined up as the third-string center behind Chris Chester, has bulked up to 308 pounds and plans to report to training camp as heavy as 315 pounds.

"We all have a lot to learn, but I'm feeling more comfortable," Yanda said. "Last week was pretty rough on me, but it's getting better. I like playing guard and I'm having some fun over there."

Cameron praised Gaither, a 6-9, 350-pounder whom Baltimore picked in the fifth round of the supplemental draft last year out of the University of Maryland. Although there have been questions about Gaither's maturity and work ethic, there's little question about his talent.

"He's without question the most improved guy on offense, in my opinion," Cameron said. "He has a long way to go. You really don't find out about your left tackles until they give up a sack or two. Once they do that, you've got to find out how they bounce back.

"A left tackle has to have a little bit of a short memory. He's got to move on because we're not going to take him out and we're not going to move him onto the right side."

Gaither got off to a strong start in training camp last year, frustrating outside linebacker Terrell Suggs in pass-rushing drills.

However, he wasn't nearly as sharp during the preseason at adjusting to blitzes and blocking schemes.

"This is my season," said Gaither, who started twice as a rookie. "I have been looking forward to it since the beginning of last year. I have a lot of work to do.

"I don't have a grasp on anything, I believe. I'm working really hard and learning the plays and nailing them down, but there's always the next step."

Although Ogden has informed friends that he plans to retire, he hasn't made any official announcement. He's going to be in Baltimore on June 13 for a golf tournament.

The Ravens sound resigned to adjusting to life without the 11-time Pro Bowl selection.

"You have a lot of respect for the guy and you enjoy watching him play, but the bottom line is you've got to move on," Cameron said. "You just put the best guy you can over there and you help him when you need to help him. You still have to be productive no matter who that guy is, whether it's Jonathan Ogden or not."

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


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