Baltimore Ravens: 5 Things Kelechi Osemele's Strong Preseason Reveals About Team
With training camp in Owings Mills, MD coming to a close and the Ravens shifting to a more normal practice schedule, John Harbaugh has had the chance to evaluate the talent on his roster and see what he will be working with when the Ravens open their season Monday, Sept. 10 in Cincinnati.
Concerns with the pass-rush have mounted in recent weeks, as both Calvin Johnson and Julio Jones picked up 100-yard receiving games on just a few series against what is thought to be an excellent secondary.
These concerns are justified, and Baltimore is hoping its stable of outside linebacker and defensive end types like Paul Kruger, Courtney Upshaw, Sergio Kindle and Albert McClellan can get after the quarterback without the aid of Terrell Suggs.
Kruger has had an excellent preseason and looks to be the best linebacker on the team outside of Ray Lewis.
Upshaw has been good as well, but is having expected troubles adapting to the speed of the game and making consistent plays.
McClellan and former second-round pick Sergio Kindle have drawn praise from Coach Harbaugh, but there’s one Ravens rookie who is not scared of any of these four guys.
That would be this year’s second-round pick by the Ravens, Kelechi Osemele.
Osemele, or KO, as has been his nickname in camp, was taken with the No. 60 overall pick in the 2012 draft out of Iowa State. He has been impressive thus far, and though many believed the college left tackle could only play right tackle in the NFL, his success at the position right off the bat is still a positive.
The most available starting spot on the Ravens O-line is at left guard, so many thought the selection of Osemele was more talent-based than need-based. Nevertheless, Osemele is working at the unoccupied left guard spot as well as right tackle, and in turn, proving his versatility to Harbaugh and the rest of the Ravens' coaching staff.
Outside of the ineffectiveness of the pass-rush and the mental state of Billy Cundiff, durability and cohesiveness along the offensive line is the biggest concern for the Ravens heading into the season.
Here are five things that the strong play of Osemele proves about the team and/or brings to the effectiveness of the Ravens O-line.
Versatility Wins over Veterans
Matt Birk (77) is impressed with the young O-linemen
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Versatility is vital for offensive linemen looking for playing time, but mastering several positions is something rarely seen out of O-linemen until their second or third year in the NFL.
Michael Oher has played both tackle positions this offseason, his fourth, because the Ravens' Bryant McKinnie struggled to stay in shape.
Oher looked solid at left tackle despite being so terrible at the position a year ago in camp that the team was forced to bring in McKinnie once the 32-year-old was cut by a weak Minnesota Vikings team trying to dump salary.
McKinnie proved to be a huge upgrade over Oher and should hang on to the left tackle spot come Week 1. That leaves the right tackle job to Oher, whose experience on the right side and his proven durability guarantee him one of the starting spots.
Oher has started since his rookie year and played the full 16-game season each of those years. He is also a vocal player and has earned the respect of his teammates for his willingness to switch positions and do what is best for the team.
This philosophy seems to be rubbing off on Osemele, who has even caught the eye of the Ravens' center. The 15-year-veteran Matt Birk had this to say when asked about Osemele by the Baltimore sports media around the seven-minute mark of an Aug 20 interview.
I remember my rookie year like yesterday. I couldn’t play one position well, and these guys now come in and can play two positions — that’s impressive.
The other aging veterans on the O-Line, McKinnie and LG Bobbie Williams, should also be impressed, though they have not made any public statements about the rookie.
McKinnie has long had too many conditioning concerns in training camp to work on other positions, as he remains firmly a left tackle and unwilling to accept any other role.
Williams is still nursing an ankle injury that has swelled up a bit, even though the injury happened to the 35-year-old guard in the middle of last season.
Williams may be worried the most about Osemele's strong preseason, as the rookie will take his job if the coaches decide a player with his skills must be on the field.
Osemele's talent and ability to play inside and outside make it easy for the Ravens to shuffle around their O-line and remain a strong unit.
But the key to good O-line play is not all about talent at every position.
Assembling the Best Group Will Be Difficult
Like last year, McKinnie (78) is the wildcard of the O-line
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Osemele and guys like Oher, Jah Reid and Justin Boren who play multiple positions make dealing with injuries easier, but coming up with the best lineup difficult for offensive line coach Andy Moeller.
There are a few ways things could shake out for the season opener, with who starts being a huge decision for the coaching staff.
We’re going to work different combinations. I think it’s important to get guys in different spots. In the end it will pay off for us because guys will be more versatile and we want to make sure we don’t miss anything.
Here is what Harbaugh and Moeller must choose between:
Scenario 1: McKinnie is named the left tackle and Williams wins the left guard job
In this case, the Ravens will go with their most veteran lineup:
McKinnie — Williams — Birk — Marshal Yanda — Oher
This is the oldest combination of O-linemen, a fact the team is not concerned with, but fans and experts are.
Any configuration with Williams starting makes the age of the O-line noticeable, as the veteran former Bengal is only two years younger than the 37-year-old Birk.
This lets Osemele sit for the beginning of the season and allows him to become more comfortable, which may or may not be something he needs.
Scenario 2: McKinnie's weight issues continue; he is not named the starter
This is unlikely at this point because McKinnie has done enough to get out of the coach's doghouse, but McKinnie is always a threat to return to the dog house at any time. If he screws up, the O-line will look as follows:
Oher — Williams — Birk — Yanda — Osemele
Though this adds youth to the unit, Oher can not be fully trusted to hold up as a pass protector at left tackle.
Scenario 3: Ideal Scenario, Oher unselfishly moves to guard
The best combination of youth and talent would be this:
McKinnie — Oher — Birk — Yanda — Osemele
The coaching staff would be against it, mainly because the coaching staff wants to reward Oher, and moving him inside is not what they have in mind. Oher has worked hard in the offseason and set a positive example for young O-linemen, and he deserves to be treated better than a forced move to guard.
Even so, Oher proved he is a team player a year ago, so who knows; maybe he would consider the move, especially if Osemele shows his dominance at right tackle and/or Williams and the left side of the line are struggling.
With second-year player Jah Reid missing a lot of preseason and training camp with a calf injury, Reid likely missed his chance at the left guard spot.
It will be hard for Osemele to crack the opening day lineup. Though this unit received a lot of blame for playoff losses in the past few years, it remains a very talented unit with four former Pro Bowlers and now Bobbie Williams, who though old was a great player for the Bengals.
Depth is huge at every position in the NFL, but O-line is an especially nice place to have it.
O-Line Depth Is Best in Flacco Era
Justin Boren played for both Ohio State and Michigan as a guard
Though the Ravens only have two offensive linemen in their prime, Yanda and Oher, they make up for it with quality veterans at the very end of their careers and first and second-year players who are skilled but not quite ready to start in the NFL.
The large discrepancies are not great for the team, but they allow these older players to act as stop gaps while the younger players work on finding their best positions and their technique.
Another pleasant surprise outside of Osemele has been former Big Ten guard Justin Boren, who helped keep Terrelle Pryor upright before going undrafted in the 2011 NFL draft.
Boren is interesting because he is well-schooled, but also plays with a mean streak, as is evident by his transferring to Ohio State after beginning his college career with the Buckeyes' biggest rival, the Michigan Wolverines.
Boren spent 2011 on the practice squad and has impressed the coaches enough that he should get a roster spot once the final cut occurs.
The Ravens also have two centers who are the brothers of current NFL quarterbacks. Gino Gradkowski, younger brother of Bruce, was the team's fourth-round pick in 2012 and their center of the future. Cecil Newton is the older brother of the former No. 1 Overall pick and Heisman winner Cam Newton.
Though Cecil is less talented than Cam, he has a chance at a roster spot.
Both of these players can play either guard position along with center, while the Ravens have Osemele, Jah Reid and undrafted rookie Jack Cornell fighting for backup tackle positions.
Its safe to say the Ravens are ready for any injury to their offensive line, but center certainly has the weakest backups so far.
Osemele Is Mature
KO always handled himself against quality Big 12 competition
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Kelechi Osemele has done everything you can ask of your second-round pick.
He has shown a willingness to move around, take on experienced defenders and also sit and learn behind veterans who, for the most part, are less talented than KO. Furthermore, he has finished his blocks and been mobile enough to get downfield on long run plays and stay with the play.
The rookie has certainly won over the coaching staff and may get an extensive look Thursday against Jacksonville when the Ravens will play their starters for three quarters against the Jaguars.
Osemele has also done well with the media and looks like the kind of player who could become a leader in the future as he further understands the NFL game.
Contrasted with another second-round pick, Sergio Kindle, Osemele is light years ahead of where Kindle was at this point in his career.
The beginning of Kindle's career was unfortunate, as a head injury caused him to miss the entirety of his rookie year and put the rest of his career in jeopardy.
Kindle has battled back, but now in his third year as a professional, Kindle has not developed the coverage skills necessary to play linebacker in the NFL. He is a pass-rushing specialist.
And one that Osemele has dominated in one-on-one drills in camp.
Though Kindle was first-team All-Big 12 from 2007-2009, Osemele earned second team honors in his sophomore year of 2009 and proved he could handle a little Big 12 competition.
Osemele is a competitor, and one that is not afraid of NFL starting talent. He is also willing to sit and learn behind the veterans, which is good news for the Ravens' developing pass-rushers who could use the experience of going against KO, a player with the skill-set of some of the best right tackles in the league.
Ozzie Can Still Draft
Ravens fans trust in Ozzie
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While the 2012 NFL draft went well for the Ravens, it certainly was not as perfect as 2011 when draft experts gave them high marks for selecting Jimmy and Torrey Smith.
Landing Courtney Upshaw after trading back was a huge steal, and Upshaw should be able to contribute early and often.
The Upshaw pick is especially significant now because of Terrell Suggs' Achilles injury. Suggs was fine during April's draft and made outside linebacker less of a need than help on the offensive line.
At the time of the Ravens' picks, two offensive linemen with first-round grade were still on the board: Stanford tackle Jonathan Martin, who went to the Dolphins, and Georgia guard-tackle Cordy Glenn, who was recently named the Bills' starting left tackle.
Both of these players would have been tremendous additions to the Ravens O-line, but Ozzie bypassed them in favor of defensive help and hoped a talented offensive linemen fell to him later in the second round.
It seemed like the talent pool on the offensive line was stripped by the No. 60 overall pick, but the Ravens found a good one in Osemele at that selection.
Osemele will try to make GM Ozzie Newsome look smart once again with a productive upcoming season.