The Ravens have talked often this spring about how difficult it will be to replace perennial Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda, but perhaps no one has a better appreciation of that task than tackle Orlando Brown Jr., who lined up next to Yanda on nearly 1,000 snaps last season.
“It’s going to be so different,” Brown said, speaking on a video conference call with Baltimore media April 16. “He’s been next to me almost every snap for the last two years, and he’s helped me grow as a player. … I understand that we’ll probably be breaking someone new in at the right guard position, and we’re going to do what has to be done. But at the end of the day, Marshal is a legend. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer.”
Head coach John Harbaugh called Yanda “irreplaceable” at Yanda’s retirement news conference, but when the Ravens open their season, someone will be playing right guard. That means developing new chemistry and a new choreography of sorts for Brown and the man just off his left shoulder.
Who that person will be became one of the Ravens’ most pressing offseason questions the minute Yanda announced his retirement, especially given the Ravens’ run-first attack led by reigning league Most Valuable Player Lamar Jackson.
The Ravens could opt for a Day One or Day Two draft pick, a plug-and-play rookie, but that’s a tall order for someone adjusting to the NFL game — particularly this year, when teams could lose all spring on-field workouts because of coronavirus concerns.
The Ravens could choose to go the free-agent route, looking for steadiness and reliability at a price point they can afford. Or they could try to promote from within, a thin group that thinned further when versatile veteran James Hurst was released; Hurst was staring at a four-game suspension for a violation of the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
Brown admits he is “a little bit biased,” but he’d like to see his former Oklahoma teammate and good friend Ben Powers get the shot. Powers, a fourth-round pick last year, played in just one game for the Ravens as a rookie, when Yanda sat out the regular-season finale. So making the jump to the starting spot alongside Brown would be a big one.
But Brown said Powers is “an underdog and underrated. … He’s a workhorse. He’s just going to get better throughout the game, he’s going to get better throughout the season, throughout his career.”
Brown acknowledged that the personnel moves would be dictated by general manager Eric DeCosta and his staff, and he said his focus during this unprecedented offseason is to “do my best to make sure that I’m ready to dominate, and whoever is next to me, I’m sure they’re going to be ready to dominate.”
Toward that end, Brown said he’s trying to keep an offseason regimen as routine as possible, although he acknowledged he is “a little worried that we won’t have a season” because of the coronavirus shutdown.
A day before Brown met with the media, Los Angeles Rams center Brian Allen became the first NFL player known to test positive for COVID-19.
“I don’t think that the NFL and the Ravens organization are going to put us in a bad position,” Brown said. “If things aren’t ready, they’re not ready. I don’t think it’s going to be forced.”
But whenever the league gets the green light, Brown said he wants to be ready.
“You can only control what you can control,” he said. “For me personally, I know that’s making sure that I come back in the best shape and making sure that my weight is where it needs to be and that I am able to go out there and play at a high level from Day One.”
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