The Ravens are saying all the right things about having confidence in their in-house offensive line personnel. To wit, we’ll have an in-house competition at center and right tackle, the guys we have are talented enough, we don’t necessarily need to go out and get a free agent or two, etc.
Privately, though, there has to be some concern about cobbling together an O-Line that has what it takes to get any real push in the running game. And no one wants to see QB Joe Flacco playing under constant threat of sacks and hurries when he finally has a full set of top receiving talent to work with.
The two big question marks are center and right tackle.
The main suspects in the Ravens O-Line mystery are James Hurst , John Urschel , Ryan Jensen and the inexperienced Matt Skura . Throw in De’Ondre Wesley and Stephane Nembot as the “raw potential but no starting experience” guys.
The Ravens’ competition at center is between Urschel, Jensen, and Skura –
Hurst, Wesley and Nembot are battling it out for right tackle.
At center, Jensen the biggest at 6-foot-4, 310 pounds, and has significantly trimmed down his body fat. Urschel has also gotten bigger, but he’s not as large as Jensen.
Urschel has the experience edge with 15 starts over his pro career, including two playoff games. Jensen has nine starts.
“I’ve started a fair amount of NFL games. I’ve been a backup, active on gameday and thrown into games. It’s an interesting feeling. Every year I’m a little bit older and a little bit more experienced. I think that serves me well,” Urschel said.
“If I see something on the defense, and maybe we haven’t talked about it in the meeting room, I have experience and instincts on what to do. I think if I’m very much on my own and need to make a quick decision, I can make the right one.”
“If you’re at center, you need to run the offensive line – being vocal, being consistent and being dependable,” he said. “These are the important characteristics of a center.”
The battle at right tackle is to fill the void left by the departure of Rick Wagner in free agency.
Hurst took all of the snaps with the first-team offense in minicamp.
Wesley and Nembot are bigger and have a lot of raw talent, but neither has started a game. Wesley has been active for just seven contests (all in 2015) and neither he nor Nembot played at all last season. Nembot, an undrafted rookie hailing from Cameroon, Africa, had surgery and sat out his entire rookie year.
Hurst, meanwhile, has started 18 games, including the playoffs, over his three seasons. Almost all of that has been at left tackle, where he’s faced some of the best pass rushers in the NFL – from Oakland’s Khalil Mack, Pittsburgh’s James Harrison, Arizona’s Chandler Jones and more.
The former undrafted rookie has had some up-and-down performances, but a switch to right tackle helps. Hurst started at right tackle in Week 17 against the Cincinnati Bengals and had one of his best games. He’s gotten bigger as well, and built off that this summer.
“Here is what I can tell you: He is very coachable. What you teach, you see [on tape]. He is very coachable, he is accountable, he tries to do it exactly like we ask him to do, and he is getting nice results,” Offensive Line coach Joe D’Alessandris said.
“It is good to see him put forth the effort he did in the offseason. He got bigger, he got stronger. He is moving quickly. He is an intelligent young man. You put those combinations together, and you have a good football player.”
Sounds good, but the popular perception among fans in Baltimore is Hurst makes a good backup but is not starter quality. Some of that shade thrown at Hurst is due to the unlucky fact that it was his body falling on Joe Flacco’s leg in 2015 which caused Joe’s torn ACL injury.
“James Hurst has had a very good camp,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. “He’s going to be a consistent player. I’m comfortable with him.”
Maybe the more telling quote came directly from the owner of the team—Steve Bisciotti—who recently called the offensive line a “work in progress” and said the team will continue to look for upgrades.