OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Plenty has been written and discussed about the Ravens’ new left tackle Bryant McKinnie.
His addition looks great on paper, inserting the former Pro Bowler on the left side and sliding third-year tackle Michael Oher to the right where he thrived in 2009.
McKinnie has yet to play a snap in live-game action for the Ravens, making Sunday’s debut against the Pittsburgh Steelers all the more nerve-wracking for everyone involved. Getting reps in practice is well and good — even against the bullish Baltimore defense — but trying to keep the likes of LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison away from quarterback Joe Flacco is an altogether different challenge.
A little over a month ago, McKinnie was dismissed by the Minnesota Vikings after nine seasons as a result of his weight ballooning to a near 400 pounds and team doctors having concerns with his cholesterol level. Since signing with the Ravens on Aug. 23 and reporting at a weight of 370 pounds, the offensive tackle had shed 10 more pounds after two weeks of practicing.
“I feel pretty good,” said McKinnie, who did not play in the preseason and hasn’t taken part in a game since last January. “I’m just looking forward to going out here and finally playing in a game. I’m just real anxious to go out here and just play.”
Sunday’s temperatures are not expected to be as high as they can be in September home games, but McKinnie’s conditioning will be monitored closely by everyone wanting to see the Ravens snap their seven-game losing streak to the Steelers when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is playing in the game. The former Outland Trophy winner at the University of Miami says he’s also gained more comfort in grasping offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s system after a shaky start in practices.
“I think I’m pretty comfortable. At the beginning — when you’re new to something — it seems like everything is moving fast, but now everything is starting to slow down because I’m starting to get familiar with what’s going on. I’m going to just take this game, go out there and give the best I can give, and then just keep rolling for the next two or three weeks and then I should be back where I left off.”
Hopefully McKinnie’s best is good enough against the Steelers, who the Ravens desperately want to beat in order to gain the early advantage in what figures to be a two-team race in the AFC North. A home loss to the Steelers would put the Ravens in a sizable hole immediately, making the Nov. 6 rematch in Pittsburgh all the more critical if Baltimore wants to win the division to earn a home playoff game for the first time since 2006.
McKinnie will figure heavily into the Ravens’ fate, both Sunday and throughout the season despite his checkered past that includes run-ins with the law and an embarrassing dismissal from the 2009 Pro Bowl for skipping too many practices. The team can only hope McKinnie backs up the many encouraging words he’s spoken since arriving in Owings Mills.
Fortunately, the man to McKinnie’s right on the offensive line, Ben Grubbs, is one of the better guards in the AFC. With linemen needing to communicate while dealing with crowd noise and adjustments at the line of scrimmage, Grubbs has assisted in bringing the former Viking up to speed quickly with new terminology.
“He’s been pretty helpful, because he communicates well, and we’re able to discuss what’s going on with the defense,” McKinnie said. “It kind of gives me a better idea of what I need to do.”
NOTES: Tony Corrente’s crew will officiate Sunday’s game in Baltimore. … The Ravens will wear their white jerseys, forcing Pittsburgh to don black with temperatures expected to be in the low 80s. There is a 30 percent chance of isolated thunderstorms, according to Weather.com. … The offense will be introduced before the game as the Ravens will forgo announcing Ray Lewis and the starting defense prior to taking on their hated rivals.