How Zuttah fits in return to Ravens offensive line remains unclear

August 19, 2017 | Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Veteran center Jeremy Zuttah is back with the Ravens, but determining how he’ll fit into a revamped offensive line isn’t easy.

After starting all 16 games and being invited to play in the Pro Bowl as an alternate last season, the 31-year-old was traded to San Francisco in March as the Ravens wanted to get bigger and stronger at the position. But after season-ending injuries to Alex Lewis and Nico Siragusa and the surprising retirement of John Urschel, the Ravens found themselves extremely thin on the interior line, prompting general manager Ozzie Newsome to re-sign his former starting center a week after he was cut by the 49ers.

No assurances have been made that Zuttah will automatically move back into the starting job he held over the last three seasons.

“The role for right now is to come out, work hard and earn playing time,” Zuttah said after his first practice back with Baltimore. “They said to go out there, compete, and we’ll see where we’re at. That’s honestly where we are.”

Head coach John Harbaugh isn’t tipping his hand, either, but he did say Zuttah would work primarily at center and probably wouldn’t be viewed as an option to start at guard beyond an “emergency” scenario. Fourth-year lineman James Hurst was listed on the latest depth chart as the first-team left guard after the news broke about Lewis undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery, but he’s played left tackle in recent days with starter Ronnie Stanley sidelined with an undisclosed ailment.

With Hurst also serving as the primary backup at both tackle spots, some have speculated that the Ravens could shift Jensen to left guard to help stabilize that position and to allow Hurst to focus on left and right tackle responsibilities in practice. Former practice-squad member Matt Skura started at left guard in Thursday’s preseason win over Miami.

The third preseason game against Buffalo next Saturday will offer more clarity, but Harbaugh was content to declare a center competition between Zuttah and Jensen for now.

“They are both in play. We will do whatever is best for the Ravens,” Harbaugh said. “The best players play, and the best players are the guys who play the best. That is how we do it — always have, always will. We will see how it plays out. I love competition, and I’m sure that all of those guys in there want to start.

“They have to earn it, so that is what they will try to do.”

Listed to be 19 pounds heavier than Zuttah, Jensen better fits the profile of what the Ravens wanted at the position with senior offensive assistant Greg Roman implementing a more downhill and physical brand of run-blocking schemes. Zuttah was originally acquired by the Ravens in 2014 when former offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak was bringing his stretch-zone blocking scheme to Baltimore.

There’s also something to be said about Jensen’s durability and performance at center this summer, which has been steady despite a carousel of players at every other position on the line.

“Even when he has had [physical issues], he has fought through them and gone out and practiced,” Harbaugh said. “He has played well in the games. He played better in this [past] game than the first game. I thought he played well in this game. He’s a motivated guy. We will see what happens.”