After ‘redshirt’ season, Andrew Vorhees in starting mix for Ravens’ new-look O-line

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The one-year anniversary of the torn ACL Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Andrew Vorhees suffered in his right knee during a workout at the NFL combine last March came and went with little fanfare, at least to the player.

Vorhees believes he was in the Ravens’ weight room when it dawned on him.

“Just another day,” Vorhees said following Baltimore’s penultimate organized team activity on Thursday. “Just trying to put that day behind me and just kind of close that chapter and move on. I’m just so thankful to be where I’m at now in terms of my health and stuff. Proud of the work that I’ve put in and that all of our staff has poured in. And yes, I’m just looking forward, now, to what lies beyond us.”

Vorhees, who the Ravens picked in the seventh round of the 2023 NFL Draft after they traded with the Cleveland Browns to get an extra pick, is a little more than 14 months removed from surgery. At this time last year, he was attending meetings, doing rehab work and watching his teammates at practice, knowing he would have a long wait before getting back on the football field.

The Ravens drafted the former USC standout with the expectation that Vorhees would likely need a redshirt year to get his knee right. He also focused on getting the rest of his body stronger. The work he put in has him in good position to compete for one of the Ravens’ starting guard vacancies.

“I just (want) to go out to practice every day and just try to be the best football player that I can become. We’ll let everything else take care of itself,” Vorhees said. “I know these gentlemen upstairs have quite the job to decide who’s going to play at the end of the day. But as an individual, it’s up to us to become the best football players we can become and just make their jobs easier.”

Vorhees has gotten some first-team reps during the various offseason practices, but he’s hardly alone. So have 2021 third-round pick Ben Cleveland, 2022 fourth-round selection Daniel Faalele, 2023 sixth-rounder Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu, 2024 second-round pick Roger Rosengarten and free-agent signing Josh Jones.

The Ravens have three vacancies on their starting offensive line after the offseason trade of right tackle Morgan Moses and the free-agent departures of guards Kevin Zeitler and John Simpson. As of now, the Ravens, who will have their 10th and final OTA session on Friday and their mandatory minicamp next week, seem determined to get a look at several different players in those roles. OTAs brought a handful of different starting offensive line combinations, with the two constants being veteran Ronnie Stanley at left tackle and Pro Bowler Tyler Linderbaum at center.

“I’ve seen a lot of big guys that can move and work hard, pick things up quickly,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “The nice thing is nobody’s going out there that you say, ‘I don’t think he’s going to be able to do it.’ So far, every single guy looks like he could be the starter. Now, we get into pads. We get into preseason games, let the guys compete against one another and see who wins the jobs. But, all of them are still in contention at this point, which is very good.”

Kicking it off

Kicker Justin Tucker joked that he’s spending more time in the weight room these days to prepare for the increased contact that could result from the new kickoff rules. He also revealed that he put on 3.8 pounds since last season.

The Ravens’ approach to the new rule, however, has been all business. Tucker said special teams coaches Chris Horton, Randy Brown and Sam Koch have watched just about every kickoff from the XFL, which originally modeled what now closely resembles the new NFL rule.

Under the new guidelines, kickoffs will initiate from their own 35-yard line while the coverage team lines up on the opposing team’s 40-yard line. Members of the receiving team will be stationed between the 30- and 35-yard line with two returners behind them. Kickers will be tasked with landing the ball between the 20-yard line and the end zone. The goal of the play is to encourage more returns and to limit the long run-up by the coverage team, which caused high-speed collisions.

“After watching a lot of the XFL plays over the last couple of years, the kicker seems to be involved in like 25 percent of the tackles,” Tucker said. “I’ve mixed it up a couple of times — I’ve gotten in there. But now I have to get some more shrugs, get the (shoulder) traps going a little bit just to make sure I’m prepared for a little bit more contact. In all seriousness, it will be a lot of fun to see what we come up with and then see what other teams come up with, and see how we can gain an advantage on the play.”

The Kansas City Chiefs have talked openly about having a non-kicker kickoff, so they’d have another natural tackler on the field for the play and wouldn’t risk injury to their kicker. It seems unlikely the Ravens would go that route, and Tucker made clear that he wants to be on the field. But Harbaugh acknowledged everything is under consideration as the team formulates a game plan for the new play.

“You just get right to work on how we’re going to teach it, how we want to coach it. We couldn’t wait to get out here, even in this type of a practice, and run plays and see what the angles look like, so we can kind of glean our coaching points,” Harbaugh said. “We told the guys, ‘This is a collaboration. We’re learning this together. Where do we want to drop? What’s our targets? What are our landmarks? What are our leverages in the kickoff? What are our angles? Tell us what you think when you’re out there.’ So, we’re trying to make sure we do the best we can to enter the season understanding the play as well as we can. Then, I’m sure we’ll learn a lot once it starts happening for real.”

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Other thoughts

• Lamar Jackson’s playful banter with safety Marcus Williams throughout practice provided some entertainment on a day when there was a good number of incompletions, a few interceptions, a lot of penalty flags and plenty of good-natured trash talk. Jackson and his offensive teammates felt they were on the wrong side of some borderline calls, so when the defense was finally flagged for being offside, Jackson went over to congratulate and celebrate with the referee.

• The best celebration, however, belonged to third-year tight end Charlie Kolar, who had an eventful practice with some nifty catches in traffic and at least one bad drop. On a goal-line sequence, Kolar fought through a hold in the end zone to make a diving catch. He got up and punted the ball toward midfield. He then connected with Jackson on a flying chest bump.

• Fourth-round cornerback T.J. Tampa got some individual coaching from Harbaugh. As the action was headed toward the other end of the field, Harbaugh was giving Tampa a technique demonstration behind the play. Tampa has gotten beat on a few big plays during OTAs. However, he’s also made his share of plays, where you can see how he utilizes his length — he’s 6-foot-1, 194 pounds — to his advantage. On Thursday, Jackson tried to hit second-year receiver Sean Ryan for a touchdown. Tampa, though, was in good position on Ryan and knocked the ball away.

• Defensive back Tre Swilling, who seems to get his hands on at least one ball in every practice, hauled in his latest interception by just being in the right place at the right time. Trying to get the offense into position for Tucker to kick a field goal, rookie Devin Leary sailed a throw in the middle of the field that hit Swilling right between the numbers. He caught it and immediately went down to the ground.

• The Ravens had 17 non-participants in Thursday’s practice, but quite a few of those players could be back on the field in some capacity at next week’s minicamp. Harbaugh said outside linebacker Adisa Isaac and safety Beau Brade, who were both injured during rookie minicamp, have a chance to return to practice next week. He also said veteran cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who has done mostly conditioning work in the few OTAs he attended, will be practicing in some capacity next week. Edge rusher David Ojabo also could see a bump in his participation level. The third-year pro took part in some individual sections of Thursday’s practice, which he hadn’t been doing of late as he continues his return from knee surgery.

(Photo: Nick Wass / Associated Press)

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