Owen Daniels Is Great, But His Signing Don’t Mean Jack If The Ravens Don’t Draft Line Help

Featured, Sports and Bets — April 4, 2014 at 9:44 am by

by Seabass

Weapons.  Every NFL quarterback needs them.  Joe Flacco, after a season in which he saw his two favorite weapons either get traded or get hurt, suddenly finds his team loaded with offensive options.  Last year the Ravens stumbled along with two back up tight ends (Bajema, Dickson), a free agent rookie wide out (Marlon Brown), Torrey Smith, and a big play specialist in Jacoby Jones who was hurt early in the season.  Add a few beat up veterans (Stokley, Clark), an alleged drug dealer (D. Thompson), and a developing player who never quite developed (Tandon Doss), and the Ravens had a hell of a time getting the passing game going. But after a flurry of free agent signings this offseason, the Ravens are looking serious about getting their highly paid star quarterback some offensive help.

Owen Daniels is the latest player to ink a deal that will put him in purple come September.  Veteran star receiver Steve Smith signed with Baltimore last month, and the Ravens extended special teams stud and big playmaker Jacoby Jones as well.  Now a weakness has suddenly become an area of strength.  A still developing and potential star Torrey Smith is still the number one receiver here, but now he has a tough Steve Smith as his two and a talented and big Marlon Brown as his three.  Jones adds depth and big play ability and a fully healthy Dennis Pitta returns to roam the middle of the field.  Throw in Owen Daniels for two TE sets and the Ravens have themselves some versatility.  Owens, Pitta, Steve Smith, and Brown can all line up in the slot or split wide as well, new Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak will have the ability to mix and match personnel groupings til the cows come home.  This offense should be markedly better already from both a scheme and a talent perspective.

But if the boys up front don’t produce, none of the these skill position signings will mean squat.  In one of my first sport memories I can vividly remember watching the Baltimore Colts play back in 1981.  I was 9 years old and my uncle was having a Sunday crab feast at his house.  The Colts sucked and were getting destroyed by the Buffalo Bills. Randy McMillian had just been stuffed on a 3rd and short and the Colts were punting again. As the Colts punted  I can recall my mother’s cousin looking at the television, his breath ripe from a 12 pack of Miller High Life and a half a pack of Lucky Strikes,  he said, almost into the air, “Kid, you can’t take a shit without an asshole, you can’t chop a tree down without an axe, and you can’t convert 3rd downs without an offensive line.” Point well taken. Fast forward to the now and the Ravens learned this same lesson last year.  The Ravens had one of the worst offensive lines in football.  To help remedy the problem up front, Baltimore has already traded for center Jeremy Zuttah, and he is certainly an upgrade over Gino Gradkowski, but Zuttah isn’t a pro-bowler either.  The young and talented Eugene Monroe elected to stay here and anchor the line at left tackle, but his play wasn’t exactly the stuff of legend in 2013.  (Sure, we can give him a pass since he came in season and since he was the best player on the line last year, but the Ravens will be expecting more from him in 2014.) The Ravens are also hoping that Marshall Yanda can return to pro-bowl from in Kubiak’s system and that guard/tackle Kelechi Osemele will come back healthy and ready to play like he did during Baltimore’s 2012 Super Bowl run. All of these developments seem positive, but there still is a massive question mark at right tackle and the Ravens haven’t formerly addressed how they intend to fill that spot.  (Not that they need to yet, it’s April.) Plus, I don’t know if I’m even sold on a Yanda/Zuttah/K.O. interior.  The Ravens, at least as of right now, look intent on bringing back at least 3/5ths of a line that rated as their worst ever.  That’s iffy at best.

And “iffy” won’t translate to quarterback protection or running lanes.  Too many “if’s” means the Ravens must address this position in the draft, and it seems the Ravens are setting themselves up to do just that.  It makes the most sense, the draft is deep in O-Line help, the price is right, and talented youth is always a good thing, especially in the trenches. Taylor Lewan out of Michigan and Zack Martin out of Notre Dame may be available at 17 for the Ravens, but with the depth in this draft the Ravens can also look elsewhere in the first and still draft high quality interior and outside lineman in the second and third rounds.  As deep as this draft is, potential second and third rounders like center Marcus Martin from USC and tackle Antonio Richardson from Tennessee could potentially step in and start for a team like the Ravens.  Honestly, the O-line was so bad last year, I wouldn’t mind seeing the Ravens spend their first two picks on linemen to add depth and starter potential for this upcoming season.  The O-Line seems like the unit that needs the most work and infusion of talent, and this deep draft seems to be the cheapest and easiest remedy for this maligned group.

But of course we don’t know what the Ravens themselves are thinking.  They may like second year player Rick Wagner for the starting tackle spot, or they may have another free agent in mind for the right tackle job, and that’s all well and good, but I’d like to see them spend at least two of their top four picks on offensive line help.  Simply because if the Ravens can’t block or protect, it doesn’t matter who they sign to throw, catch, and run the football.  (Hell, even Johnny Unitas, Jerry Rice, and Walter Payton needed big guys to help them succeed.)  Without the big uglies upfront, no offense works, no matter how skilled in the skill positions you are; and the Ravens have to realize that just from what transpired here last season. It’s just like my mom’s cousin said some 30 years ago…..

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