Tyler Linderbaum is, relatively speaking, a smaller man in a land of giants, which requires certain adjustments in his football life. Take microphones, for example. He was the last Raven to address reporters after Wednesday’s training camp practice, which meant he followed Ronnie Stanley, which meant the microphone stand that worked for a 6-foot-6 left tackle would not suffice for a 6-2 center.
As a Ravens official fiddled with the adjustment, Linderbaum joked about the resizing. Over his standout rookie season, the first-round pick found ways to make things work. Now he’s the one poised to reach new levels.
“He’s just a fantastic person and football player,” offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris said. “He’s diligent at his job, so he wants to know, yes, the easy answers, but he wants to also find out the hard answers. … We’ll put him in that position where he has to grow in that area, and he’s doing a fantastic job.”
Besides All-Pro kicker Justin Tucker and All-Pro inside linebacker Roquan Smith, no other Raven might be closer to best-at-his-position accolades this season than Linderbaum. He was, according to ESPN, the NFL’s best run blocker as a rookie, winning at a rate higher than even All-Pros Creed Humphrey and Jason Kelce. Now he enters his second season in Baltimore with the strength and technique to better handle the behemoth pass rushers who gave him trouble last season.
Through the first week of camp, Linderbaum has been conspicuous in his, well, inconspicuousness. He has seemingly handled everything asked of him — presnap diagnoses, shotgun snaps, blocking assignments, one-on-ones against nose tackles outweighing him by 30-plus pounds. A minor foot injury and a major adjustment to NFL-level defensive linemen colored parts of Linderbaum’s first training camp, but in Year 2, “he’s doing a really great job,” coach John Harbaugh said.
“We speak in codes a lot up front — and that’s throughout the league — and he now understands everything that takes place,” Harbaugh added Wednesday. “And he’s really the coach’s voice and eyes on the field, so he’s reiterating what’s being taught in the classroom, and then he goes to the field, and we work on the field, and he’s continued doing that process. … He’s a great leader and an excellent performer.”
Under new offensive coordinator Todd Monken, what Linderbaum does before the snap could be as vital as what he does after it. Ravens coaches have empowered quarterback Lamar Jackson to change plays at the line of scrimmage when he sees fit. But, if a play changes, so can the offensive line’s responsibilities. It’s Linderbaum who’s tasked with processing the adjustments and resetting the line’s protections.
After the mental challenges come the tests of strength. The 305-pound Linderbaum, who compared his rookie year experience to his freshman year experience at Iowa, struggled at times in pass protection last season. He allowed three sacks and 26 pressures, the fourth most among NFL centers, according to Pro Football Focus, and gave up three pressures four times, including in a regular-season loss to the New York Giants and a playoff loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. The opposing nose tackles in those games: Dexter Lawrence, listed at 342 pounds, and D.J. Reader, listed at 335 pounds.
The Ravens do not have anyone quite as monstrous up front, but they do have two hulking nose tackles in Michael Pierce (355 pounds) and Travis Jones (338 pounds). A year ago, in one of their first training camp encounters, Pierce steamrolled Linderbaum on a passing play. In 2023, Linderbaum is meeting Pierce’s power moves with more power.
“He’s very, very technically sound, but he can anchor a lot better,” Pierce said Monday. “I don’t know if he gained a little weight or not, or just getting stronger as he’s growing, but he’s definitely gotten a lot better. … Technique-wise, he was always sharp. But just like those grown-man things, dealing with those grown-man moves, different ‘hump’ moves, all that kind of stuff where you just need that muscle, that girth and that anchor, he’s definitely anchoring a lot better.”
“Guys around the league are getting better and better,” Linderbaum said. “Just at the end of the day, it’s being consistent in the game, not letting one or two plays build on top of each other. Because guys are skilled, guys are really good, but at the end of the day, we’re all here for a reason.”
In the 15 months since the Ravens drafted Linderbaum No. 25 overall, left tackle Ronnie Stanley has gotten to know him well enough to understand that, away from football, the 23-year-old is “completely different” from former Chicago Bears All-Pro center Olin Kreutz, whom Stanley leaned on early in his career.
On the field, though, there are striking similarities. “I would say they play with the same tenacity,” Stanley said Wednesday. “When they get upset, there’s definitely another switch about them where they’re just not going to take anything from anyone. So they both have that about them, and that’s something you always want to see in your center.”
If Linderbaum makes the jump the Ravens expect him to this year, defenses might tire of him pretty quickly. Linderbaum played every offensive snap in all but one game last season — when he missed two in a Week 5 win over the Bengals. Just over five weeks from the Ravens’ season opener, he feels stronger, more confident, more refined. He has grown — even if it’s not obvious in front of a mic stand.
“Definitely having a season under your belt is good,” he said, “but there’s still a lot of improvements to go.”