OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After moving anonymously through the Ravens’ locker room for the past three months, rookie Patrick Mekari stood before a media throng and fielded questions Nov. 27, indicative of his new status as the Ravens’ starting center after a season-ending injury to Matt Skura.
Skura’s injury is the first significant change for an offensive line that has been outstanding this year. The Ravens (9-2) have started the same five players along the offensive line in each of their first 11 games, and the line play has been at the center of the Ravens’ success.
Led by Most Valuable Player candidate Lamar Jackson and running back Mark Ingram, the Ravens are averaging 210.5 rushing yards a game, by far the most in the league.
Mekari, who made the Ravens as an undrafted rookie out of Cal, took over for Skura after the three-year veteran was lost with a knee injury during the Ravens’ 45-6 rout of the Los Angeles Rams Nov. 25, and Mekari is expected to start when the Ravens host the San Francisco 49ers (10-1) and their No. 1-ranked defense at M&T Bank Stadium Dec. 1.
“There’s definitely pressure with it, but … I’m confident with the position I’m in,” Mekari said before the team’s practice on Nov. 27.
Head coach John Harbaugh said the Ravens were “fortunate” to sign Mekari, a 6-4, 308-pounder who played tackle and guard at Cal but projected as a center/guard in the NFL.
From the beginning of OTAs and into the summer, Harbaugh said he was impressed with Mekari, and he was one of two players (along with linebacker Otaro Alaka) to beat the odds and make the initial 53-man roster as an undrafted rookie.
“He’s just a good player,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t know how he fell through in the draft. To me that’s a fluke. I blame all the scouts in the National Football League for missing him. It’s kind of a joke that they missed him, and we’re really happy to benefit from that.”
“He just went to work and did a great job and got his snaps ironed out,” Harbaugh added. “He’s smart and tough and has done a good job.”
The Ravens list Bradley Bozeman as the No. 2 center behind Skura on their depth chart, but Bozeman has been the starting left guard all season, so it’s likely he will remain there. Harbaugh said a roster move for another interior lineman could be forthcoming. The Ravens have an open roster spot after placing Skura on injured reserve.
“It’s unfortunate what happened to [Skura],” tackle Orlando Brown Jr. said, adding, “We understand that Pat Mekari is ready. Obviously he showed that on Monday night coming in the way he came in. I don’t think we’re going to skip a beat.”
Mekari has not been doing a lot of work snapping the ball to Jackson in practice, since that had primarily been Skura’s role as the starter, and he said that will be a point of emphasis this week.
Mekari also recognized that his role will also include reading the defensive front, making checks at the line and knowing the correct assignments, but he pointed out that he will have an All-Pro in Marshal Yanda next to him, and three other lineman in Brown, Bozeman and tackle Ronnie Stanley who have also started every game this season.
“It’s definitely a whole o-line effort,” Mekari said. “It’s a lot of work, and I’m definitely up for the challenge.”
LIGHT WORKOUT AFTER ROAD TRIP: The Ravens tweaked their schedule this week after the Monday night game on the West Coast. Players were off the morning of Nov. 27 and held a light walk-through that afternoon.
“We have a semi short-week mindset,” Harbaugh said, calling the walk-through practice, “more of a mental day. Not that we couldn’t use the work against this team, but you gotta balance that with the travel.”
Harbaugh, who has praised the locker room culture this year, noted that 15 or 20 players were in the Ravens’ weight room “right off the plane. I thought that was really cool. Guys were thinking recovery and getting right on the task at hand.”
SNEAD: TARGETS DON’T MATTER, WINS DO: Receiver Willie Snead, who caught touchdowns on both his receptions against the Rams, said he recognizes that receivers aren’t going to get a lot of targets in this offensive system led by Jackson, and that’s OK with the Ravens rolling as they are. Snead, who led the Ravens with 62 catches last year for 651 yards, has 23 catches this year for 277 yards.
“We’re not seeing 10 targets a game,” Snead said. “We’re grinding it out, and then when we get our opportunity, we know what to do with the ball. … It’s tough as a receiver right now. I mean, it’s not ideal, but shoot, we’re winning, man, and that’s all it’s about, getting those W’s and making this run.”
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