OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Last season was supposed to be the continuation of Ravens veteran Marshal Yanda’s reign as the best guard in the NFL.
His six straight Pro Bowl selections had tied Ray Lewis for the third-longest streak in franchise history behind only Jonathan Ogden (11 straight from 1997-2007) and Ed Reed (seven in a row from 2006-12). That exclusive company began prompting some discussion about Yanda’s chances of joining that trio — and perhaps current teammate Terrell Suggs — in Canton one day, especially if he were to add a few more years of elite play to his impressive resume. The Hall of Fame is certainly rare territory for a guard, but momentum had been building as analytic sites like Pro Football Focus touted his excellence and Yanda was even profiled by a national website last summer.
Then, his 2017 season was over soon after it started when he fractured his left ankle in Week 2, an injury that required surgery to repair the damage. After battling through countless ailments to play all but five games in the previous eight seasons, Yanda would sit out the final 14 contests and the Ravens would miss the playoffs for the third straight year, in part because of an offensive line that struggled to gel without its best player in the first half of the season. The 2007 third-round pick has shown little interest in individual accolades over the years, but the thought of not being there for his team was difficult to take.
“It was a heart-breaking deal. I thought I was going to maybe miss some time but be able to find some way to fight through it and get back on the field,” Yanda said. “But to have the news that it was season-ending was really tough. It was really hard for me being away, but that’s part of football. You have to deal with it.”
The frustration didn’t end there as Yanda hurt his shoulder lifting weights just as he was winding down his ankle rehabilitation last December. Instead of risking further damage to his rotator cuff by trying to push through the injury, the 2007 third-round pick chose to have surgery early this offseason, a move that further delayed his return to the practice field.
There was no doubt that Yanda would return to action in 2018, but it’s fair to wonder if he’ll regain his elite playing status as he turns 34 next month and comes off his third shoulder surgery — each arm has been worked on — in the last five years. Of course, he need look no further for inspiration than Suggs, who has recorded a total of 19 sacks in two seasons since suffering the second torn Achilles tendon of his career in 2015. At the time of that injury, many thought a 33-year-old Suggs might be all but finished, but he’s only strengthened his case for an eventual place in the Hall of Fame.
It isn’t difficult envisioning the 6-foot-3, 305-pound lineman following a similar script to put himself in the conversation at the very least.
Yanda swats away any mention of him eventually being worthy of such a historic honor, but he has every intention of again being the leader and linchpin of the Baltimore offensive line after returning to the practice field this week for the first time in 11 months.
“You understand that guys can definitely come back from [injuries], and even though they’re older players, they can still be productive,” Yanda said. “They can still do everything they want to do, so I’ve just attacked [rehab] every single day. I feel like, as you get older as a player, this game means more to you every single year that you play.
“I obviously understand that it’s a young man’s game, but I’m going to be fighting every single day to be ready to roll and to be productive.”
Whether it was returning from emergency leg surgery in days to help the Ravens clinch a division title in 2011 or switching from right guard to left guard because of a serious shoulder injury and still making the Pro Bowl in 2016, Yanda has proven time and time again not to doubt him. His place among the top 10 players in franchise history is cemented, but his toughness is second to none in the 22-year history of the franchise.
How much longer Yanda will play remains to be seen as his current contract runs through the end of next season. With more than a decade in the NFL under his belt, the Iowa native is taking a year-by-year approach to his career.
“Me not playing pretty much at all last year, there was no question I definitely wanted to play this fall and get after it and be a part of it,” Yanda said. “You reassess and reevaluate. I’ll take my time after the season, but right now I’m focused on this year and doing my part.”
The Ravens are hoping it’s that same gigantic part as before.