Why Wagner 'earned' the starting tackle job

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh spoke a line Monday that not many thought they would hear a few months ago.

Rick Wagner has earned the starting right tackle spot.

After the Ravens didn't re-sign Michael Oher in free agency, many projected the Ravens would take Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin in the first round. After the Ravens didn't draft an offensive tackle, there was speculation that the Ravens would sign veteran free agent Eric Winston, especially given his ties to offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.

But, 20 days away from the Ravens' season opener, Harbaugh officially handed the starting job to Wagner.

"He's been solid," Harbaugh said. "Solid is the next step before being good, and good is the next step before being great. I think he's on his way."

How did Wagner earn the starting job?

He's been consistent in opening holes in the running game and not allowing pressure in pass protection. He's a "coachable" player, meaning he doesn't repeat the same mistakes. And he hasn't committed a penalty this preseason, which is a welcome change of pace to a flag magnet like Oher (50 penalties in five seasons).

"I think the way you evaluate him is that not much is said about him," offensive line coach Juan Castillo said. "Sometimes that’s a good thing when [the media is] not saying, ‘Oh, well he did this,’ or ‘He did [that].’ You don’t say much, because he’s doing his job, and that’s important to him."

Wagner is the third different starter from a heavily-criticized offensive line that finished last season, joining left guard Kelechi Osemele and center Jeremy Zuttah. A fifth-round pick from a year ago, Wagner played 12 percent of snaps last season, so the Ravens had an idea that he could handle the job.

Wagner's pass protection has stood out to the Ravens. In 41 pass plays, Wagner has allowed one quarterback hurry and no hits.

"He's a good athlete," Harbaugh said. "They try to bull rush him and go after him that way, and he's not gotten moved at all. I'm proud of him."

Harbaugh also indicated that Jah Reid has won the job to be the team's top backup at tackle this season.