Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh says it will be a competitive situation for every spot on the offensive line except right guard. But, before the vision of the line takes shape, the Ravens have to answer the biggest question facing them about the weakest area on the team.
How does Kelechi Osemele figure into the Ravens' plans?
Osemele is coming off season-ending back surgery, and although he says there will be no limitation in his training in another month, this is a scary injury for an offensive lineman. The Ravens have to determine if he can be counted upon to start in 2014 because that will affect their priorities heading into free agency and the draft.
When healthy, Osemele is big, strong and nasty. He has the potential to be a Pro Bowl player. The Ravens just have to be confident that he can return to that form because they don't want to get stuck with someone like A.Q. Shipley, a hard-working but limited blocker, for another season.
"I would assume that he will be in that lineup somewhere because he's that kind of a player," Harbaugh said of Osemele. "But he’s got to come back and do it."
At this point, Harbaugh is right that only one spot on the line is certain -- right guard Marshal Yanda. Still, the decisions with the rest of the starters are presumably made already.
The Ravens have not hid the fact that they want to re-sign left tackle Eugene Monroe, especially after they traded a fourth- and fifth-round pick to get him in October. The coaching staff also has seen enough to know it needs an upgrade over Gino Gradkowski at center and it needs to part ways with free-agent right tackle Michael Oher.
Once again, it comes back to Osemele. If the Ravens are convinced he can make a full recovery, the next question is where to start him.
As a rookie, Osemele played all 16 regular-season games at right tackle before moving to left guard in the playoffs. In 2013, he started the first seven games at left guard before undergoing back surgery.
Where Osemele lands on the offensive line could come down to who the Ravens get in free agency and the draft. If the Ravens can add a guard, Osemele could go back to right tackle. And, if the Ravens bring in a tackle, he would stay at left guard.
Osemele has previously said he prefers to play guard, but he told reporters last week that he is open to playing wherever.
“I can’t wait to get on the field and try [my back] out,” Osemele said. “It’s been bothering me for a while now, and to be healthy, it’s going to be great. I can’t wait to get back out there and see what I can do.”