A year later, not much has changed about the Ravens’ preseason battle at left guard.
Same early-preseason favorite: Ben Powers. “Probably Ben has been the most consistent guy there right now,” coach John Harbaugh said after practice Wednesday, “so he’s got to keep rolling from there and see what happens.”
Same competition in training camp: Tyre Phillips and Ben Cleveland. “I’m going against the Bens, and they’re giving me great competition,” Phillips said.
Same deadline for a decision, too: the Ravens’ preseason finale against the Washington Commanders, three days before the NFL’s deadline for 53-man-roster cuts. “By the third preseason game … we’ll kind of know,” Harbaugh said.
It’s an intense but friendly competition, Powers acknowledged Wednesday, and “there’s no hiding from it.” Here’s how the three contenders stack up.
The experienced favorite
Powers started a team-high 12 games at left guard last season, holding on to the job from Week 2 to Week 14. According to Pro Football Focus, he graded out as a top-50 guard, with solid but unexceptional grades as a run blocker and pass blocker. A late-season foot injury effectively ended Powers’ season, clearing the way for Cleveland to start the Ravens’ final four games.
Ahead of the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, Powers has emerged as a better and more versatile lineman, tightening his grip on a roster spot, if not the left guard job as well. Harbaugh on Wednesday noted that Powers’ lower-body strength has improved, the byproduct of a more dedicated offseason program.
“It’s something I try to focus with every year in the offseason, just being an offensive lineman,” Powers said. “Lower-body strength, back strength and shoulder strength are three elements that every offensive lineman needs, and there’s really no ceiling to that. It’s always something you’re trying to work for. So it’s something I try every year.”
Powers started the Ravens’ preseason opener Thursday at left guard before moving to center, adding to the team’s insurance policy at the position. Top center Tyler Linderbaum is expected to return to practice Friday, Harbaugh said Wednesday, but the first-round pick’s foot injury and Patrick Mekari’s versatility along the line could leave the team in need of what Harbaugh called an “emergency center.”
Powers struggled with snapping the ball in camp last summer, but he said he’s become “tenfold” more comfortable with the demands of the job over the past year.
“Versatility for an offensive lineman is something that keeps guys around in this league, for sure,” he said. “Anything to do to help this team.”
The healthy contender
Phillips, not Powers, was the Ravens’ first choice at left guard last season. But he played just 29 snaps in Week 1 against the Las Vegas Raiders before being carted off with a knee injury.
Phillips returned from injured reserve to start four more games, all at right tackle. He’s still an option there this season, but he’s looked more like the athletic interior presence the Ravens imagined when they drafted him in the third round two years ago.
“I think he’s doing a really good job in moving in pass protection, back and forth, punching really well, not getting bulled,” Harbaugh said. “He’s done a good job with that. The run game’s been pretty athletic. You know, he’s a guard more than he is a tackle, but it’s good to have a guy like that can get you out of a jam, get you through a game at tackle, if you need it. So I credit him for that, but he’s done well. He’s not out of the competition by any stretch.”
Injuries have nagged at Phillips throughout his career — his first IR stint came as a rookie, when an ankle injury sidelined him for nearly a month — but he said Wednesday that he feels “as healthy as I’ve ever been right now.”
“Been nicked up my last two years, but this year, over this offseason, did a lot of work on my body,” said Phillips, who added some muscle. “I feel healthy as ever.”
The slow-starting dark horse
Phillips played a team-high 67 snaps Thursday, but part of that workload came at tackle. Cleveland, meanwhile, played 54 snaps, all at guard — on the right side in the first half, then the left side in the second half. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman liked what he saw at both spots.
“He’s pretty ambidextrous like that,” he said Sunday. “It doesn’t really bother him, moving sides. So I thought he did really well, took another step. [He] continues to improve, and you can see that he can make a difference with his size and strength on some of those runs. He does a nice job. He has really good potential, and he just has to work every day to get there. But I think that Thursday night was a really great first step for him.”
It didn’t help that Cleveland gave Phillips and Powers a head start. The 2021 third-round pick missed the Ravens’ first four practices after failing their conditioning test, not making his camp debut until the team’s first padded practice.
Availability has been an issue early in Cleveland’s career. He was in and out of camp as a rookie, and missed about a month of the regular season with a knee injury. On Wednesday, he left team drills with a seemingly minor injury but returned for positional drills. As Phillips and Powers headed for the podium after practice as part of their scheduled media availability, Cleveland walked inside the team facility.