Heading into the offseason, the two glaring questions for the Ravens offensive line were at center and tackle. Facing the possibility of losing both starting tackles from the year prior, and having endured a first-year starter at center in Gino Gradkowski, those spots were both maligned and widely unpredictable as to their future.
The trade for Monroe midseason signified the sense of urgency within the organization to address the issues at tackle. They let Oher walk, and re-signed Monroe to a five-year deal. However, Gradkowski was still the de facto starter at center.
Then, they traded for Jeremy Zuttah from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Zuttah — a former member of the infamous Schiano Bucs — was expected to slot into the fold immediately and takeover for Gradkowski, who frequently appeared overpowered in the middle.
After the Zuttah trade, the only hole left to fill was at right tackle, where Michael Oher had previously failed to develop. The expectation was the Ravens would draft a tackle and groom him for the future, possibly signing a stopgap veteran in the interim. Meanwhile, the Ravens continued to talk up one of their own on the circuits, and Rick Wagner’s name kept popping up.
Wagner was a fifth round pick in the 2013 draft out of Wisconsin, and at points leading into his senior season was one of the top tackles on draft boards. His grade suffered his senior year, and slipped to a projection near round three.
As is, both Zuttah and Wagner would be starters if the season started next Sunday. There is nothing but uncertainty when it comes to Gary Kubiak’s offense, and that is natural. Resting on faith and past results, Ravens fans must trust that the Ravens rush attack will flourish like Denver and Houston before it. Which is why it is always a comforting thing to hear something that can be equated to a firsthand account.
Marshal Yanda, voted by you readers as the toughest Raven, had this to say about his future battering mates:
On Zuttah: “He seems like he’s doing a good job. I’ve gotten to know him a little bit these past couple weeks. He’s a hard worker, keeps his head down, doesn’t say a lot – just leads by example. He seems like a smart kid, and it’s been good so far.”
On Wagner: “He definitely shows the tools that he can be a starter for us, and he’s definitely going to compete for that spot. When I’m out there – he’s a young guy – so I try to help him, and obviously, we work inside-out, so I’m relaying the call to him all the time. It’s always a communication deal, and I’ve played tackle before, so I know a little bit of the stuff where it makes it a little easier for him. I just try to give him the call so he can do his job easier. It’s about blocking guys. It’s not about the call, so you try to get the call to him, let him do his job and not worry about the call so much and just play football. That definitely helps you when you’re a young player.”
The bits about Wagner are especially interesting, and with the perspective that Yanda brings to the situation, it could allow a sophomore offensive lineman like Wagner to transition more smoothly. Yanda has spent ample time at both guard and tackle in the NFL (28 at tackle, 60 at guard), and that understanding could be paramount towards allowing Wagner to, like Yanda said, “just play football.”
As for Zuttah, it appears he takes his business seriously and lets his work talk for him. By most accounts, he has fit in tremendously within Kubiak’s scheme, and his added height and weight should help anchor a bit more than Gradkowski could.
The Ravens offensive line — with a healthy Osemele and returning Yanda and Monroe — hinges on the play of the two new components. Similar to with his running backs, Gary Kubiak knows the traits that bring success in offensive linemen. While the possibility remains the team will add a veteran, it seems they are more than prepared to let Wagner get his licks.
One thing seems certain: this offense will not be shy about their running tendencies. “We’re all excited,” Yanda said, about Kubiak’s offense. “We all like running the zone scheme and know that Gary [Kubiak] is going to do that, and we’re just excited. We all love running the ball. We understand that we’ve got to pass the ball as well, but as offensive linemen, you always love to run the ball, and we’re excited.”
We are too, Marshal. We are too.