Jared Gaither's talent and athletic ability have never been in question.
The 6-foot-9, 340-lb. mountain of a man is built like a prototypical offensive tackle, and he possesses the strength, quickness and long arms that coaches dream of.
But if you ask why Gaither, a local guy who the Ravens selected in the fifth round of the supplemental draft back in 2007, is no longer in Baltimore, you'll get a litany of responses.
Some say it was Gaither's at times questionable work ethic that led to the Ravens' decision not to re-sign him as a free agent last offseason. Others say he could never overcome a host of injuries that set him back in his four seasons in Baltimore. Even others feel Gaither let his quest for a big-money contract and frustration with being moved to right tackle impact his preparation and play on the field.
Regardless of the reason, Gaither - who was once projected as the Ravens' left tackle of the future - will not be putting on a purple jersey when the Ravens take on San Diego this Sunday night. Instead, he'll throw on a Chargers uni and square off against Terrell Suggs and Jarret Johnson - guys he matched up against in practice countless times in his four seasons in Charm City.
"It's another opponent," Gaither said on a conference call with Baltimore reporters yesterday. "We're just going to prepare like it's any other opponent. It really doesn't make a difference if it's my old team. You just prepare to win each and every week."
Asked why he feels things didn't work out with the Ravens long-term, Gaither made reference of a back injury which wiped out his entire 2010 season, but also said he's not going to stress about stuff that's in his past.
"I'm not sure," Gaither said. "I wouldn't speculate or waste my time trying to guess or wonder. You just have to move on, and I've done so. Now I am here with the Chargers."
Gaither hasn't been with San Diego long - he was signed by the Chargers just two weeks ago after being cut by the Chiefs - but he's already made a big impact. Chargers coach Norv Turner raves about Gaither's ability and the job he's done stabilizing an offensive line which has been hampered by numerous injuries, forcing them to start 11 linemen through the course of this season.
"He's kind of bailed us out," Turner said. "I don't know where we would have been without him. I don't think we would have won the last two games, and I think we would have continued to struggle to protect the quarterback."
His former teammates and coaches are equally complimentary of his skills ("Ton of talent," Johnson says. "Jared is playing really, really well," says head coach John Harbaugh), but I wouldn't be surprised if there weren't a few Ravens executives shaking their heads and wondering what could have been while watching Gaither line up at left tackle for the Chargers on Sunday.
Gaither started 28 games during his Ravens tenure, including 15 during the team's run to the AFC Championship game in 2008, and worked his way from a little-known Maryland product into one of the top young left tackles in the league.
But the injuries, the subpar work ethic and the business aspect of the game all contributed to an earlier-than-expected departure from Baltimore. Still, Gaither seems to think that his separation from the Ravens was for the best, and says he doesn't hold any animosity toward the Ravens' coaches or front office.
"Not at all," Gaither said. "They are a great organization. Ozzie (Newsome, Ravens GM) gave me my start, and I'm very appreciative for it.
"I'm still young in my career. I still have a lot of football to go. Everything that took place in history helped me to be a better person now. I am looking forward to just keep on building and getting better."