A tale of two tackles: Ravens no stranger to adding veterans late in preseason

August 23, 2011 | Luke Jones

You can finally exhale with the Ravens’ major question at right tackle now answered with the addition of veteran Bryant McKinnie, right?

Let’s take a step back toward reality.

If the 31-year-old McKinnie’s conditioning and questionable character weren’t enough, the Ravens can look no further than their own history of bringing in veterans late in the preseason to strengthen the right tackle position. Unsurprisingly, the results are mixed.

In John Harbaugh’s first season in Baltimore, the Ravens were looking for help at tackle with Jared Gaither and Adam Terry slated to start in Joe Flacco’s rookie season. Only days after veteran Willie Anderson was released after 12 seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore signed the 33-year-old to a three-year contract.

The Ravens often used max protection and Terry as a blocking tight end on Anderson’s side, but the veteran stabilized the right tackle position by playing in 14 games, starting 11 of them. As a result, Flacco was better protected, and the Ravens exceeded everyone’s expectations with an 11-5 record and an appearance in the AFC championship game.

Anderson retired after the 2008 season, but his contributions and veteran leadership were crucial for a young offensive line that was able to open lanes for the three-headed running attack of Le’Ron McClain, Ray Rice, and Willis McGahee. Anderson received the icing on the cake with the Ravens twice defeating the team that kicked him to the curb prior to the start of the season.

While the Ravens reaped the fruits of Anderson’s final season in the NFL, they struck out trying to harvest one more season from former Cowboys tackle Erik Williams in 2001.

After prize free agent Leon Searcy was lost for the season with a torn triceps early in training camp, the defending Super Bowl champions found a huge void on the right side and hoped the four-time Pro Bowl tackle could step in as the starter when the Ravens signed him to a one-year deal at the end of August. Williams had started all 16 games for Dallas in 2000 and appeared to be a far more attractive option than unproven tackles Sammy Williams and Kipp Vickers.

Despite coach Brian Billick’s optimism that Williams would be ready to assume starting right tackle duties by the third or fourth week of the season, it was apparent right away the 33-year-old was a shell of the tackle who had once opened truck-sized holes for Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith to run through in Dallas’ three Super Bowl victories in the 1990s.

Williams never made a start, playing in only five games while the Ravens eventually settled on Vickers to assume the position, though not with the prettiest results in a 10-6 season.

McKinnie — who will turn 32 next month — is younger than both Anderson and Williams were when they were signed, but he comes with far more baggage than Anderson and arguably more than Williams, who was no stranger to run-ins with the law during his playing career.

The Ravens are taking a modest risk in offering the former Viking tackle a second chance, but McKinnie will have to be fully committed to make it successful. And considering how little he apparently worked during the 134-day lockout, that commitment is far from guaranteed.

Whether McKinnie’s time in Baltimore winds up more like Anderson’s success or Williams’ whimpering exit remains to be seen, but the arrival of “Mount McKinnie” definitely adds spice to the current right tackle equation.

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