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McKinnie’s Future In Doubt
By the end of the Ravens’ first full-team training camp practice, rookie free agent Jack Cornell was practicing as the starting right tackle.
Playing the fifth-string tackle with the ones demonstrates the critical state of the offensive line.
Sure, Cornell could have a fruitful NFL career, but it’s unlikely he’d be the answer to protect quarterback Joe Flacco for the season-opener against the AFC North rival Cincinnati Bengals in September.
Still, it was Cornell who was running with the starting offense because Michael Oher had to move to the left side to fill in for Bryant McKinnie, who was absent from camp for an unknown personal issue. Plus, injuries forced Kelechi Osemele (back), Jah Reid (calf) and Ramon Harwood (ankle) off the field.
With the aging offensive line already one of the biggest questions heading into the season after Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs departed via free agency, the Ravens need to know they can count on their healthy starters.
The Ravens reportedly picked up a $500,000 roster bonus in March, but only after a face-to-face meeting where McKinnie agreed to be in better shape. They held him out of mandatory minicamp practice in June for “conditioning” reasons. And the 11-year veteran left camp saying the Ravens wanted him to get his weight down to 345 (he’s listed in the media guide at 354), and he vowed to “shut everybody up” by showing up to camp at the targeted weight and in shape.
But he didn’t show up and the Ravens had to adjust on the fly. Harbaugh named Oher the left tackle “until further notice.”
“Harbaugh almost made it sound as if the switch is permanent, an ominous sign for McKinnie, who is due to make $3.2 million in 2012 if he makes the team,” wrote CSNBaltimore.com’s John Eisenberg. “Saying he needs to find a right tackle certainly makes it sound as if the team isn’t counting on McKinnie.”
But play that scenario out.
What does the offensive line look like without McKinnie?
“[T]he problem with counting out McKinnie is the Ravens don’t have a proven alternative,” wrote Eisenberg.
Either the Ravens would have to look to free agency for that proven alternative, or they would have to throw Osemele or Reid into the fire. Neither has started an NFL game, and before they do, they would have to get healthy. Harbaugh thinks Osemele could return this week.
It’s important to note that it may not be a conditioning issue that kept McKinnie from reporting.
“Keep in mind Bryant McKinnie is also dealing with lawsuits stemming from lockout loans, etc,” tweeted Wilson.
Whatever the reason, as far as Flacco is concerned, he’d like to see his left tackle back on the field.
“I think it’s important to have our whole team here,” Flacco said. “Bryant’s on the roster and we need to get him here. He’s a good player. We need to get him here, get him running plays, and get him ready for the season, get him in football shape and make our decision from there.”
Bobbie Williams Brings Good News To O-Line
Not all the news was bad for the offensive line yesterday.
Bobbie Williams, the current favorite to start at left guard, reported to camp 12 to 13 pounds lighter than he was at minicamp when he was listed at 345 pounds.
Harbaugh was impressed with his new veteran lineman, who signed a two-year deal in June reportedly worth $2.9 million, after seeing his improved conditioning.
“Bobbie has done a great job,” Harbaugh said. “He passed the conditioning test with flying colors. He looks to be in very good shape. He looks good.”
Once considered one of the better guards in the NFL before missing all of last season with a back injury, there was speculation that the 32-year-old veteran would compete with Williams and others for the Ravens’ left guard position.
Instead of signing Steinbach, however, the Ravens inked Cord Howard, who spent the 2010 season with the Buffalo Bills and didn’t play in the league last year after having shoulder surgery.
Keep Eye On Ngata
The hamstring defensive tackle Haloti Ngata tweaked during his conditioning test is not considered a serious injury.
But analysts are saying it’s important to keep an eye on him for two reasons. First, Ngata has put on some weight this offseason and they want to see how that could change his game. Second, the Ravens defense can’t afford to lose another huge cog after Terrell Suggs injured his Achilles tendon.
“Ngata was noticeably heavier at a mandatory minicamp in June, bulking up to 345 pounds,” wrote Wilson.
But that was part of Ngata’s plan after reportedly getting down to 335 last season. He said he felt like he lost some power with the lighter frame as the grueling season wore on. By the end of year, he was dealing with a deep thigh bruise.
“There has been criticism that Ngata put on too much weight this offseason, but Ngata is primed to become the next player in this division to win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award,” wrote Hensley, who also predicted Ngata will be the second-best player in the division next year.
“Even though Terrell Suggs was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Ngata is the most disruptive force on the Ravens defense – and perhaps the entire league – when he’s healthy. His combination of size, athleticism and drive makes him impossible to block with one player. The only person who can slow Ngata is himself, which happened in the second half of last season when back and thigh injuries affected his play.”
Upshaw Even Better With Pads On?
Rookie Courtney Upshaw took snaps with the first-team defense yesterday at strongside linebacker, Jarret Johnson’s old position. And now that the pads are about to go on, Upshaw’s teammates can envision another dimension to his game.
“Courtney looked good,” linebacker Jameel McClain said. “He’s a great player. We can all see that within him. He’s strong as an ox.
“The real challenge for everybody comes when the pads come on. That’s where we know when it’s gut-check time, but I’ve got a strong feeling that Courtney is going to be even better with pads on.”
LaQuan Williams A Standout Performer
While the defense overall made the biggest statement of the team’s first practice, according to Wilson, the offense had a few highlights of its own.
And LaQuan Williams, who is competing for a roster spot and maybe even the third wide receiver spot, was the day’s “standout performer,” says The Baltimore Sun’s Edward Lee.
“Williams was flagged for holding, but the second-year receiver made a few strong grabs,” he wrote. “He hauled in a bullet off a back-shoulder pass from Flacco and then beat free safety Ed Reed to catch another pass from Flacco during a seven-on-seven passing drill.”