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At this point, it’s hard to predict the immediate course of the Bryant McKinnie saga. He just reported to training camp and isn’t in shape to practice. He reportedly has a back injury and financial issues, an exacta to occupy anyone’s mind. Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said Monday he might have to compete for a job.
When he didn’t make it to Owings Mills on time last week, the Ravens seemingly moved on in an eyeblink, flipping Michael Oher into McKinnie’s left tackle spot and inserting rookie Kelechi Osemele at right tackle. Offensive Line Coach Andy Moeller said there was enough talent on hand, sans McKinnie, to have the kind of offensive line the team wanted.
If I’m McKinnie, reportedly with bills to pay and due to make $3.2 million in 2012, that’s scary stuff. There’s nothing like hearing you aren’t needed.
But if the team’s show of “moving on” was purposeful, it worked. McKinnie quickly hustled up from Florida and reported. Although he hasn’t practiced, he’s “in house” now, under the thumb of the team’s coaches and trainers. In other words, there’s no more guesswork. (When asked what he hoped to see from McKinnie last week, the day before veterans reported, Harbaugh memorably said, “I’m crossing my fingers.”)
But the most relieved party in this surely is the team itself, because while it may be true that the Ravens have enough talent to construct a legitimate Plan B, the reality is they’re better off with McKinnie.
As much as he needs them, they need him.
While the immediate course of this saga is unclear, my prediction for what happens in the long run this season is ironclad: McKinnie plays for the Ravens. He’s on the field, in the starting lineup, manning his usual spot on the left side, as if none of this happened.
In fact, since he has worked harder to get in shape this offseason at the behest of the front office, my prediction is he performs better than he did in 2011, when he was solid enough as it was.
Harbaugh said Monday that the team will put its five best linemen on the field in the end. Well, McKinnie, a massive obstacle with 147 career starts in 148 games, certainly is one of those.
You know the coaches (and many fans) would love to go with the young, hungry guys who are insatiable about establishing their careers. Who doesn’t love that prototype? It’s so pure, a brief crossroads where the game matters more than profiting from it.
But you have to go with the most talent, especially at offensive line, where you’re sure to be immediately and horrifically exposed if you go with anything less than your best. This is the NFL, folks, where teams are packed with pass rushers who can zoom around tackles. You’d better arm yourself as best you can.
As a veteran whose conditioning and motivation have been questioned in the past, McKinnie, 32, might be the antithesis of that young, hungry prototype. But he’s a natural talent, huge and quick and up to the job.
Asked Monday if it was important to have him back, receiver Anquan Boldin, about as no-nonsense a guy as there is, replied, “Definitely, he’s a guy that started all 16 games for us last year. He’s definitely a big part of this team, a guy that we love having out there.”
Veterans know: When you have a guy who can play, you play him.
Has McKinnie performed at the soaring arc suggested for him as the seventh overall pick in the 2002 draft? OK, maybe not. (One Pro Bowl appearance.) Has he confounded people at times? Absolutely.
But he is a classic blind-side tackle with a long track record. There simply aren’t many around, and Ozzie Newsome found one a year ago. McKinnie might not be here next year after his contract expires, but he‘s here this year, for a season in which the Ravens have big dreams.
It’s fine to talk about trying out new guys in the heat of July, but in the cold of December, when the Steelers are relentlessly hurling their max-blitz at your delicate offensive blueprint, you’d better have your more able guys out there or you’re sunk. No exceptions.