Ravens boost center depth, but one big question remains on offensive line

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Wanting some experienced depth behind second-year starting center Tyler Linderbaum, the Ravens signed former Chicago Bears starter Sam Mustipher on Monday.

The Owings Mills native is a good story as a 2019 undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame who became a starter midway through the 2020 campaign and started 40 games for the Bears over the last three seasons. After Pro Football Focus graded Mustipher an unimpressive 36th among qualified centers in 2021 and 28th in 2020, the 6-foot-2, 332-pound center ranked a more respectable 18th last season. In other words, his track record may not be that of a preferred starter for a contender, but you could do much worse as backups go.

The move comes after free-agent backup Trystan Colon signed with the New York Jets and will allow Patrick Mekari to continue focusing primarily on the swing tackle role backing up starters Ronnie Stanley and Morgan Moses. Of course, Mekari may also be in the mix for the biggest question remaining for the offensive line entering the 2023 season.

Who will start at left guard?

After the free-agent departure of Ben Powers to the Denver Broncos in March, the Ravens find themselves in familiar territory as they’ll now have their sixth different Week 1 starter at left guard in the last seven seasons. It’s a position at which Baltimore has invested multiple mid-to-late round picks with mixed results in recent years, but whoever mans that spot will benefit from playing between a healthy Stanley at left tackle and Linderbaum at center with four of the Ravens’ five starters on the offensive line returning from last season.

In late March, head coach John Harbaugh said the versatile Mekari would “be in the mix for sure” and also mentioned 2022 fourth-round pick Daniel Faalele as a potential option in the left guard competition, but the top candidates entering organized team activities are 2021 third-round pick Ben Cleveland and former Las Vegas starter John Simpson. That didn’t change through the draft as sixth-round pick Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu is more of a developmental talent expected to work on the right side as a rookie and seventh-round guard Andrew Vorhees is expected to miss the 2023 season with a torn ACL.

The pressure is on Cleveland, who has started five games over his first two seasons and has dealt with some nagging injuries that have stunted his development. The 6-foot-6, 370-pound Georgia product was the popular pick to unseat Powers as the starting left guard last summer, but he never even threatened for the job, instead playing just 92 offensive snaps in his second season. If Cleveland can’t lock down the starting job this summer, you wonder if he’ll end up like 2020 third-round pick Tyre Phillips, who was waived at the end of last year’s preseason.

Signed to the practice squad last December, the 25-year-old Simpson has the potential to “surprise some people” in the competition, according to Harbaugh. The 6-foot-4, 324-pound lineman started all 17 games for the Raiders in 2021, but he was benched after Week 2 last season and released in early December. A 2020 fourth-round pick out of Clemson, Simpson graded 69th out of 82 qualified guards in 2021, according to PFF.

Of course, the potential exists for general manager Eric DeCosta to add another veteran to the competition if none of the aforementioned names are up to the challenge. The Ravens don’t need their left guard to be a Pro Bowl talent, but that individual simply needs to offer steady play and a high floor for an offensive line with such good players elsewhere.

Finding that individual is one of the biggest objectives remaining on a roster with plenty of talent and high expectations for 2023.

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