Should the Ravens take a chance on Pace?

OWINGS MILLS -- As the Baltimore Ravens contemplate whether to sign free agent offensive tackle Orlando Pace after meeting with him last week at their training complex, there's one primary, pivotal question surrounding the seven-time Pro Bowl blocker. How much football does the 33-year-old have left in him?

After enduring a string of injuries over the past few seasons, including a torn thigh muscle and a damaged knee ligament last season following a season-ending shoulder injury the previous year, Pace's medical history is a potential red flag. No deal appears to be imminent with Pace at this point, but the Ravens are still regarded as the top contender to sign the former top overall draft pick.

"I think Orlando has broken down physically," said Tom Marino, a retired NFL scout who worked for the Rams, New Orleans Saints, Dallas Cowboys and the Chicago Bears, in a telephone interview Monday afternoon. "When I watched him play last season, he couldn't do certain things that he could do easily in the past that made him the great player he was. He really didn't look anything like the the same player anymore.

"He had some problems with counter moves and different things and was outquicked on so many things. He really didn't play very well. There's no question in my mind that the Rams would have loved to have traded him because he wasn't the answer anymore. I don't think he has much left."

Pace is considered one of the most dominant blockers to play in the NFL over the past dozen years, but hasn't made it through an entire season without missing a game since 2005.

The former Ohio State star suffered a shoulder injury in the opening game of the 2007 season that sidelined him for the entire season. A torn left triceps cost him half of the 2006 season.

Pace missed two games last season. The Rams cut him after 154 career starts, a transaction that saved them $6 million against the salary cap.

"To me, Orlando's the greatest left tackle I've ever seen," Marino said. "He made it look effortless. He had strength, athleticism, everything you need. He was a complete neutralizer on the left side. He could do it all. He has worked his butt off to get healthy, but he just didn't play well last year. Maybe the Ravens could get him going again."

If the Ravens were to sign Pace, they would likely install him as their starting right offensive tackle. Such a move would probably trigger the release of veteran offensive tackle Willie Anderson.

Pace has always played left tackle, but offensive tackles aren't required to be quite as quick on the right side. At 6-foot-7, 325 pounds, Pace is probably big enough to play the position and grapple with big defensive ends.

"I think he could play there as far as drive blocking and being able to get extension with his hands," Marino said. "But from what I saw last year, he really struggled with every aspect of it. When he was with the Mets late in his career, I remember how Willie Mays let ordinary guys throw fastballs by him.

"Father Time does catch up with everyone. Orlando may surprise me and be able to do something, but I have a hard time thinking he could still play. That's just my opinion. He could certainly prove me wrong, but the games I watched it was like someone else was wearing Orlando Pace's jersey."

A four-time Pro Bowl selection, Anderson started 11 games for Baltimore last season after signing a three-year, $11 million contract. The 6-foot-5, 340-pound lineman battled a foot injury and has been trying to drop some pounds to get quicker for next season.

"Willie has been a good football player for a long time," Marino said. "He's not the same guy that he was five years ago, but he's a smart guy who knows all the angles and has been a very steady guy for a long time. If he gets himself into better condition, I think he's got a little more left in the tank than Orlando. I don't think he played badly at all last year."

NOTES: University of Maryland wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey conducted a private workout with the Ravens on Monday with quarterback Joe Flacco throwing passes to him. Heyward-Bey ran a blistering 4.30 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine. ... The Ravens have set up a private workout with University of Utah cornerback Sean Smith. ... The Ravens met with South Carolina tight end Jared Cook at the scouting combine.

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

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