Harewood receives passing grades in first NFL game

September 11, 2012 | Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After making his NFL debut and surprisingly starting at left guard for the Ravens on Monday night, Ramon Harewood admitted he wasn’t confident that he would even make the 53-man roster this summer.

It was only a natural reaction to everything the Barbados native had been through since being drafted in the sixth-round pick of the 2010 NFL draft. Already deemed a project long before knee and ankle surgeries landed him on injured reserve in each of the last two seasons, Harewood was simply thankful to finally be healthy enough to compete for a roster spot this summer.

“Sixth-round draft pick, IR two years, you drafted a tackle [Kelechi Osemele], you brought in Bobbie [Williams], Jah Reid was still there,” Harewood said. “Of course, there were thoughts [of being cut]. I really didn’t think about that until it was cut day to be honest with you. I just wanted to go out there and give it my best shot. I felt like as a man, if another man can do it, then so can I.”

Harewood’s path to becoming the starting left guard began coming into focus in the final preseason game against the St. Louis Rams. Though considered inconsequential at the time, the third-year lineman started at left guard as the Ravens rested their starters and Harbaugh shared with Harewood that the team wanted to take a look at him as an inside player.

He had never played guard prior to that contest in St. Louis, but he embraced an opportunity to show his versatility in hopes of making the 53-man roster.

“He’s an offensive lineman. He can bend,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a big guy with long arms who can bend and get leverage on defensive tackles. He’s done a good job with that.”

The Ravens liked what they saw as Harewood began practicing at left guard with the starting offensive line early last week but didn’t officially learn he would be the starter over the veteran Williams until the team’s final walk-through before Monday night’s game. The move raised plenty of eyebrows as many Ravens fans knew little about the Morehouse College product when he was introduced with the rest of the offensive starters before the game, but the early returns have been mostly positive on his performance against the Cincinnati defensive line.

Concerns had been raised about the health of Williams’ surgically-repaired ankle and Harewood provided a younger option. His 6-foot-6 height is above average for an interior lineman as some quarterbacks would have difficultly seeing over taller inside blockers, but the identical height of Joe Flacco makes that less of a concern.

“What he accomplished in the game was good,” coach John Harbaugh. “It was just the beginning for him. He’s got a lot of work to do. He knows it. We’ve got some depth on the offensive line now. That’s a good thing, so we’ll just kind of take it from there.”

Harbaugh remained non-committal about his offensive line moving forward, almost painting the illusion that the Ravens could mix and match different combinations based on game-planning against each opponent. It sounds like a baseball manager suggesting a scenario for a platoon between two ore more players, but it’s difficult envisioning such a strategy for an offensive line responsible for protecting the most important player on the field.

Along with Osemele at right tackle, Harewood provides youth and athleticism that Williams and former starting left tackle Bryant McKinnie do not as the Ravens are committed to the no-huddle attack. The uptempo style requires better conditioned offensive linemen, but it remains to be seen how well the new starting line holds up over the course of a 16-game schedule.

As was the case throughout the summer, the offensive line remains fluid and Harbaugh will not hesitate to make changes — conventional or unconventional — in the coming weeks. But the Ravens clearly hope the current younger group builds upon their impressive first act against the Bengals.

“We’re just going to have to see how that goes,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve got nine good players on the offensive line right now. That’s a real plus for us. They all bring different skill sets to the table. Where there are pluses for one group of guys or certain guys, there are other pluses for other guys that are positives. The fact that we’ve got a deep well right now is a plus. I anticipate all those guys playing extensively.”

After two seasons of waking up early to attend meetings and weight lifting sessions while knowing he wasn’t even allowed to take part in practices, Harewood isn’t taking the new-found prosperity for granted.

For a player who wasn’t even sure whether he would make the 53-man roster less than two weeks ago, Harewood will continue competing to prove that he belongs. He finally received a return for all that hard work on Monday night that no one could have reasonably expected.

“It felt pretty good,” Harewood said. “There’s a lot of room for improvement, but like I said, I just want to come out here and do my one-eleventh, my part on the offense, and I think I did that.”