OWINGS MILLS, Md. — New Ravens offensive lineman D.J. Fluker echoed what we’ve all known since eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda announced his retirement in March.
No individual player will truly fill that void.
“Yanda is a Hall of Famer. You can’t replace that guy,” Fluker said. “That’s a guy that has his own mentality in how he does things. He’s a good dude. I chatted with him on a little Zoom call. But other than that, I mean, shoot, those are big shoes to fill, but I’m just going to be myself, come in, and do what I do best — and that’s just play football.”
It isn’t the first time the Ravens have needed to replace a Canton-worthy player.
They were lucky to draft C.J. Mosley 15 months after middle linebacker Ray Lewis retired, but reliable veteran Daryl Smith was a rock-solid stopgap who helped offset the disappointment of failed second-round pick Arthur Brown. Baltimore endured no shortage of volatility at left tackle in the eight seasons between Jonathan Ogden’s retirement and the arrival of eventual All-Pro selection Ronnie Stanley. Replacing Ed Reed resulted in unsuccessful early draft picks and a ton of free-agent money spent with mixed results at best. And it’s too soon to know how the post-Terrell Suggs era will play out despite 2019 Pro Bowl outside linebacker Matthew Judon easing the short-term transition.
Ideally, a young lineman such as Ben Powers, Tyre Phillips, or Ben Bredeson would step in at Yanda’s old right guard spot and never look back, but Fluker might just be an acceptable stopgap, especially considering the absence of the normal offseason program that’s so critical for the development of young offensive linemen. The 29-year-old Fluker has never lived up to his 2013 first-round billing, but he didn’t squander his time at home this spring and summer, estimating he’s lost 10 pounds and, more importantly, reduced his body fat from 44 percent to 22 percent since last year.
“This is a big guy, and it’s all muscle,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “You saw the body [composition] stuff there that he put out. And he’s moving very well. I’m really impressed with him. He’s done a great job. His attitude has been excellent. His work ethic, we had heard it was good, and I would say it’s been better than good. It’s been an A, A-plus.”
Expectations should be realistic for someone who graded 51st among 83 qualified guards last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Fluker is now with his fourth NFL team and was released by Seattle after the Seahawks selected LSU’s Damien Lewis in the third round of April’s draft. The 6-foot-5, 342-pound veteran has made 88 starts in his NFL career, but his addition was more about raising an inexperienced position group’s floor than boosting its ceiling.
Fluker couldn’t ask for a better situation on a one-year, $1.075 million deal as he joins a Super Bowl contender and record-setting offense led by reigning MVP Lamar Jackson, whose generational athleticism alone makes the offensive line better. There are also University of Alabama ties in Baltimore from executive vice president and former general manager Ozzie Newsome to starting left guard Bradley Bozeman, who already had a small relationship with Fluker from attending Alabama football camps in high school years ago.
Perhaps the determining factor in Fluker’s performance will be offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris, who had a hand in drafting him as a member of the San Diego Chargers coaching staff seven years ago. D’Alessandris was Fluker’s offensive line coach over his first three NFL seasons and guided his transition from right tackle to right guard in his third year.
“We go back to San Diego days. It’s been fun. He hasn’t changed a bit,” said Fluker as he laughed. “Always on guys about working hard, playing their tails off, five equals one, guys going [in] there and playing physical. That’s been his mentality since Day 1 when he drafted me in San Diego.
“Being here, it’s the same way. Nothing changed. It’s been great.”
Bryant to Baltimore?
There’s little downside to the Ravens working out former Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant on Thursday as long as we keep the proper perspective.
The 31-year-old hasn’t played an NFL snap since Jackson was starring at Louisville and hasn’t recorded a 1,000-yard season since Haloti Ngata was still playing for the Ravens. The knock on Bryant even a couple years ago was his diminishing physical attributes, so what should one realistically expect after such a long layoff from the game?
Unlike the endorsements given to Antonio Brown this offseason, Jackson was more cautious with his words on Tuesday when asked about the possibility of the Ravens signing the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Bryant.
“We have a lot of great receivers who are here right now, but it’s up to the front office,” Jackson said. “Obviously, Dez Bryant’s on Instagram and stuff like that running his routes and competing against cornerbacks, and he’s looking pretty good on social media. But if the front office likes him, we’ll have to see when he gets here.”
Is it possible Bryant could still be a decent red-zone target for a passing game waiting on the 6-foot-4 Miles Boykin to establish himself as an outside threat? Is the juice not worth the squeeze for a player who already appeared to be in decline a few years ago and — fair or unfair — didn’t always have the best reputation in Dallas?
You can run the ball a 1000X times.. all I care about is winning and only winning…
— Dez Bryant (@DezBryant) August 18, 2020
We’ll soon find out.
Outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson remained absent from practice on Wednesday with an undisclosed injury that isn’t expected to keep him out for long, according to Harbaugh.
Wide receiver Antoine Wesley is also out with a shoulder injury that could keep the 2019 practice-squad member sidelined indefinitely.
“I believe he’s going to see a shoulder specialist on that,” Harbaugh said. “That could be a few weeks, and whether he’ll need surgery or something like that, I really don’t know. We’ll see where that goes.”
Undrafted rookie tight end Eli Wolf left the field Wednesday after a collision in the final minutes of the workout, but Harbaugh didn’t anticipate the injury being “a big, serious thing.” Wolf is competing with veteran Jerell Adams and 2019 practice-squad member Charles Scarff for the No. 3 tight end job behind Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle.
Veteran wide receiver Chris Moore continues to recover from a broken finger likely to keep him out for the remainder of training camp.