Baltimore Sun photo by Karl Merton Ferron
August 3, 2012
Offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie needs to be unchained from the doghouse.
For about a quarter Sunday, many vocal Ravens fans got what they had been asking for, though the circumstances weren't ideal. During the second quarter of the 43-13 loss to the Houston Texans, rookie right tackle Kelechi Osemele, one of the team's two second-round picks in April, was sprawled out on the field. His ankle was throbbing, but the pain showed on his face. When the cart came to haul him away like an old sofa, it looked like he would be lost for a while. But the Ravens caught a break because the injury wasn't, well, a break, and the rookie proved his toughness by returning in the second half. In Osemele's absence, though, veteran offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie lumbered out on the field and assumed his old spot at left tackle. Michael Oher, the scapegoat for the struggles of the entire line, shifted over to right tackle. The on-the-fly changes on the offensive line couldn't cease the team's string of three-and-outs, punts and interceptions. But we have seen enough over the past few weeks to know that changes need to be made on the offensive line, and a good start would be putting McKinnie back on Joe Flacco's blind side.
It's fair to wonder why McKinnie is still playing professional football. His dedication to the game was questioned when he was in Minnesota, and the questions now dog him in Baltimore, especially after he was unable to get his weight and his conditioning to levels the coaching staff felt comfortable with during offseason workouts. After the team charter landed at BWI on Sunday night, he was Tweeting about hosting a party at a club down in D.C. Plus, McKinnie has serious financial issues, with his wages being garnished to pay off his debts. But even if his heart isn't in it, if McKinnie can perform passably like he did in 2011, his insertion at left tackle could potentially improve three spots on the offensive line. And with Flacco getting drilled several times Sunday and with two weeks before their next game, now is the perfect time to make major changes to a line that has been beaten for 13 sacks the past four weeks.
Oher has struggled at times this season, but he had only allowed two sacks in the first six games of the season, according to Pro Football Focus. Because he hasn't lived up to the lofty expectations that go with being a first-round offensive tackle -- and because Baltimore was blessed for a decade with the presence of soon-to-be-Hall-of-Famer Jonathan Ogden at left tackle -- Oher is unfairly singled out for his uneven play. The only lineman who hasn't had hiccups is right guard Marshal Yanda, who might just be the best offensive guard in the NFL. That being said, Oher is an above-average right tackle. He struggles with speed rushers, but they aren't as prevalent on that side. Plus, he is an excellent run blocker, and he and Yanda packed quite the punch together last season when they lined up on the right side of the line.
And then there is Osemele, who has shown flashes of future brilliance while starting every game at right tackle this season. The Ravens are still trying to figure out exactly what they have in the rookie. There is no question that he is one of their best five offensive linemen. But where is the best fit for both him and the Ravens? At left guard, he wouldn't have to worry about speed rushers and could go blow for blow with his man in a lane the size of a phone booth. Bobbie Williams, who took over for Ramon Harewood last week, clearly doesn't have it anymore, and he got beat badly for one sack against the Texans. Osemele might be the long-term answer at right tackle, but in the short term, the Ravens would be better off by moving him back to left guard, a position he spent the majority of training camp learning.
Of course, the Ravens can't do that unless they fully trust McKinnie to be a professional. Harbaugh has always said positive things about the 33-year-old, but actions speak louder than words, and McKinnie wouldn't be here right now if he hadn't restructured his contract before the season opener. The time has come to let him out of the doghouse. The Ravens -- and Flacco -- need this line to be fixed in a hurry.