OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Alejandro Villanueva's military background gives him a unique perspective on life as an offensive tackle.
It's pretty intense.
“I think that offensive linemen are very dark people in a lot of ways,” Villanueva said Thursday. “I think it’s a position where when you close your eyes before the play, all sorts of bad things are happening, and you’re hoping that they don’t, because a lot of things are outside of your control.
"It’s very similar to when I was jumping out of airplanes. ... A system of shoelaces and plastic bags catches me up in the air and avoids sure death. Then you get these type of feelings that there’s not a lot of upside to jumping, not a lot of upside to playing tackle."
Villanueva, who was an active member of the U.S. Army before his NFL career, offered up that comparison after experiencing the highs and lows of the offensive line in his first two games this season. When his Baltimore Ravens lost at Las Vegas in their opener, he allowed two sacks and 10 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. The following weekend, he allowed none of either as the Ravens beat Kansas City.
Villanueva has been under scrutiny in part because Baltimore's offensive line hasn't completely come together as planned. The Ravens signed him away from rival Pittsburgh this past offseason. Then Baltimore traded left tackle Orlando Brown to the Chiefs for draft picks.
The thinking was that Ronnie Stanley, whose 2020 season ended early because of an ankle injury, would be back — and he did start the opener at left tackle, with Villanueva on the right. But that was a rough game for the line as a whole, and Stanley didn't play the following weekend. Villanueva moved from the right side to the left.
“I just think he’s getting more comfortable with what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and whatnot,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "The crowd noise had a little factor for him in that first game, but I really think as I watch, he’s really getting more comfortable with things. I think he looked at that first game and just said, ‘That’s not going to happen again.’ So, that’s a credit to him.”
Lamar Jackson was sacked three times against the Raiders but only once against the Chiefs, and the Baltimore offensive line has blocked well enough for the team to reach its usual spot atop the NFL in rushing. For a player who is still new to the Ravens, this has been an eventful start for Villanueva.
“It’s not just myself learning about him, I hope a lot of people did. He took the first game seriously. A lot of people doubted him (and) were saying all type of stuff about him," Jackson said. “He moved from right tackle in the first game to left tackle to protect my blind side, and he aced it. He did a great job.”
That kind of support means a lot to Villanueva, who, although he compared playing tackle to jumping out of a plane, is plenty capable of looking on the bright side of things.
“It’s relying on the people in the building that are going to support you — coaches, players — and try to do the best with the next snap,” he said. "That’s the only thing that matters. There’s always the next snap.”
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