The Ravens lost two 2017 starters from their offensive line this month, but head coach John Harbaugh didn’t sound concerned speaking to reporters at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando on Tuesday.
Of course, they’ll welcome back six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda this year as well as third-year lineman Alex Lewis, who started eight games as a rookie and was considered an ascending talent before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery last August. But Baltimore didn’t pick up its 2018 option on right tackle Austin Howard and lost free-agent center Ryan Jensen to Tampa Bay, who made him the NFL’s highest-paid player at the position.
This marks the second straight year the Ravens will need to replace the previous season’s starters at those positions.
“You compare it to last year, I think we are in better shape than we were a year ago at this time really,” Harbaugh said. “We actually have more flexibility, more depth than we did a year ago, and it turned out pretty well for us. I thought [offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris] did a really good job with those guys obviously. Marty [Mornhinweg], Greg Roman, all of our coaches did a great job, and it showed up in the fact that these guys are signing big contracts around the league.
“We’ve got some prospects there. I love the way the offensive line is set up right now.”
Harbaugh made it clear the Ravens have substantial plans for James Hurst, who signed a four-year, $17.5 million contract extension that included a $5 million signing bonus earlier this month. Making 15 of his 16 starts at left guard in place of the injured Lewis last season, Hurst is now expected to move to right tackle.
It’s a position where he’s made only two career starts, but the 6-foot-5, 317-pound lineman practiced there last spring and summer and received sparkling reviews from a notable teammate.
“Actually, Terrell Suggs said, ‘Hey man, this is the next Rick Wagner. He’s going to set the record this year,’” said Harbaugh about Hurst’s performance at right tackle last summer. “That’s how he felt going against him in training camp. I remember him saying that. Then, we had the injury to Alex and we moved him inside. That shows you how versatile he is. That’s how we’ll start off, but it could change.”
The 11th-year head coach also said former practice-squad member Matt Skura — who started 12 games at right guard last year — will receive the first crack at securing the starting center job as many anticipated. Nico Siragusa will also be in the mix if the 2017 fourth-round pick is fully recovered from the season-ending knee injury sustained last summer.
With Hurst moving outside, Lewis is in line to reclaim the left guard spot, but the 2016 fourth-round pick must prove he can stay on the field after missing 22 games in his first two seasons. In assistant head coach Greg Roman’s run schemes, guards are frequently required to pull, making the agile Lewis an ideal fit.
He also remains a consideration at center if Skura is not up to the challenge.
“We like Alex at left guard because what we do as an offense requires the guard to move, to be really athletic and do things like that,” Harbaugh said. “That’s part of the thing that Greg and Marty put in last year. We run a lot of different schemes — gap schemes and pull schemes and lead schemes — where the guards have to get out and do a lot of athletic things. Alex Lewis can run. He’s fast for an offensive lineman.”
Of course, Harbaugh was only speaking about offensive linemen currently on the roster as you’d expect the Ravens to be looking to add competition and depth in the draft since Hurst and Skura lack extensive NFL experience at their projected positions.