As the Ravens wrestle with reconstructing their offensive line for next season -- will Eugene Monroe be back? Will Gino Gradkowski be replaced at center? -- there is one major question that has not gotten as much attention: Will Kelechi Osemele return to form?
The Ravens need him to. They are counting on the third-year player who hasn't seen the field since October to be an anchor on the rebuilt line.
Osemele is coming off back surgery to repair a a herniated disk that cut short his 2013 season after just seven games. Osemele was never at 100 percent last season, and his absence had a larger impact than ever acknowledged.
Speaking at the NFL Combine last month, coach John Harbaugh said Osemele is on track.
"We expect him to start the offseason program,” Harbaugh said. “He's in there working out. K.O. is way far along in his training. He's doing great. He's in there every day."
Osemele started all 16 regular-season games at right tackle as a rookie in 2012 before moving to left guard for the playoff run. He stayed at guard last season, starting the first seven games before surgery landed him on season-ending injured reserve.
Most scouts and coaches agree that he is best suited to play guard, where his strength and power can maul inside. Privately, the Ravens were very disappointed with how they were manhandled at the line of scrimmage last year, and Osemele's explosive power and size should help there. At 6-5 and 330 pounds, he's about four inches taller and 20 pounds heavier than his stopgap replacement, A.Q. Shipley.
If the Ravens get their tackle situation cleared up -- will Monroe be back? will Oher? -- Osemele would ideally line up as the starting left guard once again.
It's nice that he has the versatility to fill in at tackle if need be, but in one spot or the other, the Ravens need him on the field next fall.