OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Many have debated how the Ravens should handle their left tackle position as they continue preparations for the 2013 season, but a new favorite was mentioned during Tuesday’s pre-draft press conference in Owings Mills.
Coach John Harbaugh said earlier in the offseason that second-year lineman Kelechi Osemele would receive consideration at left tackle after splitting his rookie season between right tackle and left guard, but general manager Ozzie Newsome provided the most definitive assessment we’ve heard yet regarding Osemele’s standing in the race. Veteran Bryant McKinnie remains an unrestricted free agent, but the Ravens are expected to wait and see how next week’s draft plays out before making a decision on the 33-year-old.
However, Osemele — and not former left tackle Michael Oher — appears to have the inside track at the position should the Ravens pass on McKinnie and fail to come away with a tackle in the draft. The Iowa State product started at left tackle for three years in college and was an All-Big 12 selection at the position.
“He could potentially be our left tackle, too. I think we are very open,” Newsome said. “Like I said, the dialogue has been very good with [McKinnie] from my standpoint, and I think John would echo the same thing. If we had to line up today with the group that we have, I think John told [owner] Steve Bisciotti that K.O. would probably get that opportunity.”
McKinnie has received interest from New Orleans and San Diego as well as the Ravens during the offseason, but no talks have progressed beyond the preliminary stages with any of the aforementioned teams.
Harbaugh spoke to McKinnie on the phone a few weeks ago to see if the tackle was staying in shape and to express his desire for the veteran to return to Baltimore for a third season.
“I’ve had conversations with his agent prior to today,” Newsome said. “I have a good relationship with his agent Michael George. John and [run game coordinator Juan Castillo] have both been in communication with Bryant. It is a process with Bryant. Could we open up our first game this year – wherever that is, whenever it is – and he be our left tackle? He potentially could be.”
The Ravens are extremely unlikely to see any of the top three tackle prospects — Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M, Eric Fisher of Central Michigan, and Lane Johnson of Oklahoma — available when they pick at No. 32, but assistant general manager Eric DeCosta mentioned several other intriguing tackle prospects to watch, including Florida State’s Menelik Watson, Kent State’s Brian Winters, Syracuse’s Justin Pugh, Wisconsin’s Ricky Wagner, and Terron Armstead of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Newsome downplays Alabama connection with newcomer McClain
Asked about the signing of troubled inside linebacker Rolando McClain and his Alabama roots, Newsome made a very clear assessment of why the Ravens signed the former Oakland Raider, who was released earlier this month.
Awarded only a one-year deal with a base salary of $700,000 and no guaranteed money, McClain appears to be a favorite to start in the Ravens’ 3-4 base defense, but the 23-year-old will need to prove he’s overcome his off-field problems and character flaws that led to Oakland deciding to absorb roughly $11 million in dead money on their 2013 salary cap just to be rid of him.
“Rolando is just getting an opportunity to come and make our 53-man squad,” Newsome said. “That’s it.”
Director of college scouting Joe Hortiz was the first person Newsome consulted in weighing the possibility of signing the young linebacker. Ironically enough, Hortiz attended Auburn, the Crimson Tide’s biggest rival.
Newsome’s conversations with Hortiz coupled with the strong infrastructure of the Baltimore locker room made McClain a realistic fit with minimum risk. If McClain doesn’t fall in line, the Ravens can release him with no financial ramifications.
“He is coming here just to be a part of this football team,” Newsome said. “I think the guys in the locker room will be able to provide him with the proper guidance that he needs as to the way John wants his football team and his football players to be.”
Webb, J. McClain on track for returns
Harbaugh offered positive outlooks on the respective recoveries of cornerback Lardarius Webb and linebacker Jameel McClain as the Ravens began their voluntary offseason workout program on Monday.
Webb tore the ACL in his right knee last Oct. 14, an injury that landed him on season-ending injured reserve, but the cornerback is expected to be fully recovered by the start of training camp.
“He looks really good. He should be ready to roll [for] training camp, it looks like,” Harbaugh said. “We are going to make sure we don’t have a setback. That’s the most important thing.”
McClain’s status remains trickier as he hasn’t been officially cleared to return to the field after suffering a spinal cord contusion on Dec. 9 of last season. The sixth-year linebacker and the Ravens have remained optimistic over his long-term prognosis and how it relates to his career.
His return would give defensive coordinator Dean Pees a pair of McClains at inside linebacker.
“It’s nothing but positive from the doctors about Jameel,” Harbaugh said. “He’s in training mode. He’s actually going to head out for a week to Los Angeles. There’s a certain type of trainer out there that he’s going to work with for a week out there. That will be important for him. It’s just a healing process.
“There’s a certain type of a bruise that happens that caused his issue, but it’s going away on schedule. We don’t know for sure, but I’m approaching it as if Jameel is going to be out there for us, and it looks like he has a good chance to do that – a really good chance of doing that.”
McPhee on the move
The Ravens revealed earlier this offseason that defensive lineman Bryan Hall was switching to inside linebacker and defensive end Pernell McPhee will experience a more subtle position change.
After bulking up last offseason to become a three-down defensive end in a 3-4 system, McPhee was limited with knee, thigh, and groin injuries. Harbaugh and his staff would like to use McPhee in more of a pass-rush specialist role for 2013.
“We’re kind of a hybrid, 4-3, 3-4 team, so we’re going to emphasize Pernell a little bit more at outside linebacker in Terrell Suggs’ spot and see how he does out there,” Harbaugh said. “But, he’ll still bounce. He’s an outside linebacker that can play defensive end, and he’ll be a defensive end/pass rusher in our even fronts, in our pass-rush scheme.”
The move to rush linebacker will likely require McPhee to lose a considerable amount of weight, which could ease some of the strain on his problematic knees. The third-year defensive lineman is also recovering from offseason groin surgery.