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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As the Ravens convened for the start of their mandatory three-day minicamp on Tuesday, a critical piece of their offensive line was nowhere to be found as Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda was absent from the field.
Coach John Harbaugh wouldn’t disclose the exact ailment from which Yanda is recovering, but The Sun reports that the seventh-year lineman underwent offseason shoulder surgery. Yanda was present for the Ravens’ trip to the White House and the ring ceremony last week but will not return to the practice field until training camp as he continues to rehab.
“We expect him back by camp to some degree,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s done a great job. Marshal Yanda has done a great job with the rehab. He’s right on schedule, probably ahead of schedule. He’s doing really well.”
Yanda missed two games last year after suffering an ankle injury against the Washington Redskins on Dec. 9 but recovered to play in all four of the Ravens’ postseason games en route to the franchise’s second Super Bowl championship. Two years ago, Yanda suffered chest and leg injuries in the penultimate game of the regular season but played the following week as he helped the Ravens clinch a division title and first-round bye in a win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
He was elected to the Pro Bowl in each of the last two seasons and is not only regarded as one of the toughest players on the team but also as one of the best guards in the NFL.
The long-term prognosis for Yanda doesn’t appear to be concerning, but the 28-year-old would be eligible to begin training camp on the physically unable to perform list should he not be ready to practice by late July. Jah Reid and Ramon Harewood split time filling in for Yanda as the starting right guard on Tuesday.
Ngata feeling “80 percent”
Speaking to reporters in Owings Mills for the first time since he sprained the MCL of his left knee at the Super Bowl, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata declared himself to be 80 to 85 percent of where he needs to be after spending much of the offseason rehabbing the injury.
Ngata did not need to undergo surgery, but the eighth-year defensive lineman acknowledged feeling frustrated after dealing with a plethora injuries over the last two seasons, including knee, shoulder, thigh, and ankle ailments at different points. He just began running a few weeks ago after rehabbing the knee injury that knocked him out of the second half of Super Bowl XLVII.
“It’s been real tough,” Ngata said. “Especially towards the end of the season, it just limited me. What I wanted to do was be an explosive player, and not being able to really come off or getting off blocks as well … It definitely was tough towards the end of the season, but you just fight through it, and we got a Super Bowl out of it.”
Much was made of Ngata’s noticeable weight gain last season as he played with 10 extra pounds after complaining of wearing down during the latter half of the 2011 season. Ngata doesn’t appear lighter than he did at the end of last season, but Harbaugh didn’t express concern over the defensive tackle’s level of conditioning with training camp roughly six weeks away.
“He’s in good shape. He’s fine,” Harbaugh said. “He’s right where he needs to be at this time. He’s doing well.”
With the offseason signings of Chris Canty and Marcus Spears, Ngata will not be asked to play defensive end this year and will instead play inside at nose tackle and defensive tackle where he feels he can take better advantage of interior linemen with his strength and quickness.
Ngata didn’t offer any predictions or specifics when asked about a specific weight goal he has in mind for this season, but the Ravens privately hope he’ll be in better condition than he was last season.
“We’ll see what it is. I definitely just want to come in in great shape,” Ngata said. “After this minicamp, these next five weeks are going to be really important for me to make sure I’m in really good shape to come in and participate in camp.”
The four-time Pro Bowl selection signed a five-year, $61 million contract early in the 2011 season and carries an $11.5 million salary cap number for 2013.
Leach’s presence will be missed
With the official release of Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach on Tuesday, there was plenty of talk about how the veteran will be missed not only on the field but in the locker room.
Leach was scheduled to make a $3 million base salary and was released when he and the Ravens were unable to work out a restructured contract.
“Vonta [Leach] has been as much of the heart and soul of this team as anybody since he’s been here,” Harbaugh said. “He’s been a great leader. He’s been a tremendous performer. I’ve never had more fun with a player since he’s been here, personally as a coach, than I have had with Vonta.”
Attention will now turn toward rookie fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who is expected to inherit Leach’s starting role despite possessing different skills than the traditional blocking back. Teammates are looking forward to the versatility the fourth-round pick can provide at the position after gaining a reputation as an excellent receiver out of the backfield at Harvard.
Juszczyk caught a team-high 52 passes for 706 yards and eight touchdowns in his senior season.
“I would just say his athleticism and the ways you can use him,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “Catching the football, blocking, running the football, lining him up in diesel formations and having him run routes. Obviously, we’re going to have to wait to see when we put on the pads in training camp to get a good sense for what he does with that kind of stuff.”
The Ravens began shying away from using Leach on a regular basis as the offense became more pass-heavy last season, but that doesn’t mean the 31-year-old’s departure and Juszczyk’s increased presence will dramatically change Baltimore’s plans on the offensive side of the ball.
“It doesn’t,” run-game coordinator Juan Castillo said. “[Running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery] is working with Kyle to get him so he can learn our schemes. He’s a rookie. He’s been working hard to learn our schemes. He should be able to do a good job once he gets some experience.”
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