Newsome: Don't forget about Gaither

Ravens fans saw very little of Jared Gaither last year - or, should I say, none of him - because of a thoracic disc injury in his back that prevented the offensive tackle from appearing in a single game.

That doesn't necessarily mean that Gaither won't be a part of the Ravens' starting offensive line in 2011.

Gaither currently has four years of NFL service time, which could qualify him for unrestricted free agency. Under that scenario, the Maryland product would likely not return to the Ravens.

But if last season's rules carry over to the 2011 season, players would need six years to become unrestricted free agents. If that situation plays out, Gaither would be a restricted free agent, and the Ravens would control his rights.

On a conference call with season ticket holders last night, general manager Ozzie Newsome said that if Gaither returns to the Ravens, he would be given an opportunity to compete for the starting right tackle job with the newly drafted Jah Reid.

"If we have to operate under the 2010 rules, we would still have Jared Gaither," Newsome said. "If he's healthy, he'd get a chance to come back and start also."

Gaither was expected to take over the Ravens' starting right tackle job last season when the coaches decided to move Michael Oher to left tackle, but he only participated in a sliver of training camp before the thoracic disc injury knocked him out of the rotation.

Meanwhile, Oher struggled a bit at the left tackle spot last season. He committed eight false start penalties on the year and didn't appear comfortable in pass protection at times, missing blitzers (Troy Polamalu, anyone?) and failing to pick up assignments.

But it was only one season. The Ravens are comfortable leaving Oher at left tackle, and Newsome said he expects the 2009 first-round pick to continue to improve.

"I feel after him getting one year under his belt, he will take the next step," Newsome said. "If he has to be our left tackle, he'll take the next step and he'll be able to do a very good job at that position."

As for the remainder of the line, the Ravens would love to move Marshal Yanda back to right guard after he spent much of last season filling in at right tackle. Matt Birk will return to play center under the final year of his contract, and Ben Grubbs should slot in at left guard.

"We'll put the five best guys on the field," Newsome said. "We realize that when Michael was at right tackle and Marshal Yanda was at right guard that it provided a very storng right side for us. We have to put the best five guys on the field to run the football and protect Joe Flacco.

"Jah will come and we feel like the right side is the best side for him to start, where he's played for the last four years. Nothing is etched in stone."

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