By: Brett Dickinson and Barry Kamen
BK: The Baltimore Ravens continued their strong off season by acquiring C Jeremy Zuttah from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a 5th round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Zuttah, a 6-year veteran out of Rutgers, is an ideal player to become the starting center in offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking scheme. With Zuttah as the new starter, the Ravens interior line has become crowded, with incumbent C Gino Gradkowski, backup G/C A.Q. Shipley, and last year’s 6th round pick Ryan Jensen. Brett, what are your thoughts on the Ravens trading for Zuttah, and how does this low-risk move influence the O-line picture?
BD: I absolutely bow in the greatness that is Ozzie Newsome, when it comes to pulling off deals like this. The Ravens were able to get a player, just entering his prime, at a position of desperate need for only a 5th round pick. He has starting experience at four of five positions on the line, which only adds to his value for a team that arguably had the worst protection in football last year.
Most importantly, this move changes the focus of the Ravens draft board. It is well known the team strictly adheres to the “best player available” mantra when it comes to the draft. With the addition of Zuttah, it is one less hole Ozzie would have to reach for in the middle rounds of the draft. Many experts were wondering when (not if) they would take a future starting center, even predicting a high round pick for a position that notoriously can be filled later in the draft. With the depth of having Gradkowski, Shipley and Jensen on the interior, they may not be even inclined to take a center in the draft at all. There is also the outside chance one of those earns a starting spot at left guard, pushing Kelechi Osemele to right tackle. Essentially, retooling the entire picture in front of Joe Flacco.
Now the Ravens are not the only team in Baltimore making moves this week. The Orioles made a late Spring Training trade, sending IF Alex Gonzalez to the Detroit Tigers for super utility man (and Maryland native), Steve Lombardozzi. What do you think of the move, trading for the former Washington National, and what type of role do you see for him?
As a Hammond graduate who had the privilege of watching Lombardozzi play both basketball and baseball at Atholton, I am very happy to see a fellow Howard County kid back in the area after a couple of seasons with the Nationals and the briefest of stints with Detroit. Lombardozzi’s versatility is what makes him valuable to this Orioles team. As a switch-hitter with the ability to play 4 positions, Lombardozzi should see plenty of at-bats early in the season with Manny Machado on the disabled list. I would not be surprised to see “Lombo” in the starting lineup on Opening Day, where the Orioles will face LHP Jon Lester. While the attendance and fanfare will be heightened on Monday, Buck Showalter has historically played the matchups; the bottom half of the Orioles lineup could feature Lombardozzi playing third, with Jonathan Schoop playing second in a right-handed dominant lineup.
My biggest question with the acquisition of Lombardozzi is how the Orioles will find at-bats for all of their infielders. When the news broke that Machado was going to start the season on the DL, it opened the door for the Orioles to reward Schoop with the starting job at second base, while moving Ryan Flaherty to third. Lombardozzi was a quality bench player for the Nationals, and admirably filled in for Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa up the middle, and also saw time in left field. Flaherty’s versatility is very similar to Lombardozzi’s, and even Schoop can play second, shortstop, and third. The balancing act will be left to Showalter, and the first priority should be to continue the development with Schoop at the major league level. I am all in favor of Schoop as the starting second baseman, with Lombardozzi coming off of the bench as a pinch hitter and as a fill-in starter against left-handed pitching.