OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have used both Matt Skura and Alex Lewis as the starting center in the early days of training camp as they must fill the void of accomplished 2017 starter Ryan Jensen.
Asked how that battle is playing out in this early stage of summer, head coach John Harbaugh offered an interesting description of what’s currently happening with his offensive line.
“I’m not so sure I’d call it a competition right now,” Harbaugh said. “We’re just trying to find the best combination. Probably, that’s a better way of saying it. Matt is playing very well. Alex is playing very well. How do the pieces fit together? I think they’re both doing a good job.”
For what it’s worth, Skura has received more reps as the first-team center and is considered the early favorite to replace Jensen, but the Ravens won’t have their best look at the 2018 offensive line until longtime right guard Marshal Yanda returns to practice later in the summer. Having lost Jensen as well as moving on from starting right tackle Austin Howard in the offseason, Baltimore needs Yanda, the six-time Pro Bowl selection recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, healthy and poised to resume his dominant level of play if the offense is to make meaningful improvement in 2018.
The Ravens know Yanda will play right guard and 2016 first-round pick Ronnie Stanley will once again man the left tackle position, but how the rest of the starting line will look in September remains to be seen. In the meantime, Lewis is receiving his first extended looks at center, a position he’s labeled as the “quarterback of the offensive line” for the responsibility of identifying the “Mike” linebacker and making protection calls.
“There’s that one word called ‘opportunity’ for many of them,” second-year offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris said, “where you check and see if they can play that position, how they can handle that. Then, if you see they start handling it pretty good, you start giving them a little bit more reps. Some of them may not, and you maybe say, ‘OK let’s hold off and we’ll keep you at one position.'”
A byproduct of Yanda’s absence has been the shift of versatile veteran James Hurst to right guard, which has allowed 2018 third-round pick Orlando Brown Jr. to take extensive snaps as the starting right tackle. Brown and Hurst are competing for the right tackle job with the rookie expected to eventually be the long-term starter.
Flexible pieces such as Lewis and Hurst are valuable commodities on game days when teams usually have only seven active offensive linemen available.
“It helps tremendously,” Harbaugh said. “You have Alex, who could probably play either guard, learning how to play center, and [he] played tackle in college. He has played tackle for us here already. James Hurst is another one that has amazing versatility. We’re teaching Nico Siragusa how to play center as well, and [Maurquice Shakir] is in there practicing at center.
“This early part of training camp is going to be a big part of that. Probably, [when] we get to the Rams and then to the Colts [preseason games], for sure, we’ll start honing in on what we’re going to do.”
Harbaugh didn’t have much to say Friday when asked about reports of free-agent cornerback Bashaud Breeland visiting the Ravens.
“I have no idea. Not really thinking about it right now,” Harbaugh said. “I like our guys, and we’re coaching our guys.”
General manager Ozzie Newsome always says you can never have too many corners, but the Ravens seemingly have their best depth at the position in years and wouldn’t appear to be the best spot for a fifth-year player with 57 career starts already under his belt to re-establish his market value for next offseason. Breeland had agreed to join Carolina on a three-year, $24 million deal in March before his physical revealed an infection from a cut on his foot, voiding the deal.
The former Washington cornerback ranked 21st among outside cornerbacks in Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 rankings last season while current Ravens cornerbacks Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, and Brandon Carr ranked second, 17th, and 22nd, respectively. Short of something unforeseen like a pending suspension that hasn’t been reported or a preseason decision to move on from Carr and his $7 million cap number for 2018, adding Breeland to an already-crowded group doesn’t seem to make much sense with other positions of greater need currently on the roster.
The Ravens gave a number of players the day off on Saturday, a list that included linebacker Terrell Suggs, safety Tony Jefferson, cornerback Maurice Canady, and safety Anthony Levine.
Running back Kenneth Dixon, linebacker Tyus Bowser, tight end Mark Andrews, offensive linemen Greg Senat and Randin Crecelius, and cornerback Bennett Jackson remained sidelined with unspecified injuries. Four players remain on the active physically unable to perform list: Yanda (shoulder/ankle), linebacker Bam Bradley (knee), cornerback Jaylen Hill (knee), and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (leg).
Baltimore returns to the practice field Monday morning.