Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Toughness, versatility and ingenuity allow Marshal Yanda to dominate while injured

By Childs Walker
November 29, 2016

Marshal Yanda devised the solution himself.

If there was no way to get his injured left shoulder up to snuff for the remaining seven games of the 2016 season, the Ravens guard would find a way to rely more heavily on his right shoulder. Perhaps if he fired from the left side of the line instead of the right, he'd be able to use his healthier wing to smash interior defenders.

Yanda, a five-time Pro Bowl selection at right guard, suggested the shift to Ravens coach John Harbaugh at the beginning of last week. By Sunday, he looked ready to start the Pro Bowl at his new spot.

So what if he hadn't played a single snap at left guard in 10 pro seasons? So what if his bad shoulder would torment him through two more months of NFL combat? The move provided a perfect mini-synopsis of Yanda's understatedly brilliant career — a blend of will, resourcefulness and rare athletic ability.

"If guys wouldn't look up to Marshal, I don't know who they would look up to just in terms of the total package," Harbaugh said. "The ability to do what he did, the willingness to do it and then to be able to pull it off, it's pretty remarkable."

Yanda has now served as a model of professionalism for an entire generation of Ravens offensive linemen.

"As soon as I came here, I knew one of the guys I'd be looking up to was Marshal," said left tackle Ronnie Stanley, the team's No. 1 draft pick. "He's everything I expected him to be and more. Great teammate, great leader, really understands the game without taking it too seriously. If coaches are doing something he doesn't think is useful to players, he'll say something. He's kind of a players' leader. He's always fighting for us, and out on the field, he's always fighting."

Yanda hurt his shoulder sometime during the Ravens' Week 5 loss to the Washington Redskins. The stoic All-Pro didn't come out of the game, so many were surprised when he appeared on the team's injury report the following week.

He missed three of the next four games, fueling concerns that his shoulder might be wrecked enough to cost him the rest of the season.
Leave it to Yanda, however, to find a way to keep playing.

He did not merely grit his way through a so-so performance. He graded as the best guard in the league, according to the scouting web site Pro Football Focus.

He was flawless in pass protection, a major reason why quarterback Joe Flacco took just three hits all game. And he was the key blocker on the Ravens' first scoring drive, which featured runs of 20, 16 and 18 yards.

After running back Terrance West powered across the goal line, Yanda sprinted to meet him in the end zone, where he wrapped West in a vigorous hug.

The last thing he looked like was a guy with a busted shoulder.

Of course, we've seen this before. Yanda played with a torn rotator cuff during the team's run to Super Bowl XLVII, postponing surgery until five days after the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers.

As a rookie, he famously took two jolts from a stun gun to win a $600 bet. Easiest money he'd ever made, the Iowa farm boy declared.

Yanda, 32, has accepted pain as an inherent part of the job ever since he blew out his knee five games into his second season.

"You have to understand, it's not if you're going to get hurt. It's when," he said in 2014.

It's an outlook he shares with linebacker Terrell Suggs, one of only two players who have been on the Ravens longer than Yanda.

"That's kind of the mentality, for some of us," said Suggs, who's playing with a torn biceps. "It's the cost of doing business. That's the only way Marshal knows to play. We all be getting banged up, and Marshal's going to be out there. It's good to see your bell cow out there, definitely."

Yanda has never been the most talkative Raven, and he politely declined an interview request Wednesday.

But his teammates are happy to fill in the blanks on one of the most respected players in the locker room.

"I asked him when was the last time he was on the left side, and I forget what he told me, but it wasn't any time close to now," Flacco said. "So it's definitely impressive what he does, week in and week out.

He recalled Yanda was "pretty down" a few weeks ago when his season appeared in jeopardy. But when Flacco showed up for work last week, he noticed "an extra pep" in Yanda's step.

"Then he broke it to me he was going to try to play the left side," Flacco said. "Obviously, I love that."

Harbaugh is no longer surprised by Yanda's adaptability. He has shifted him to tackle several times over the years to cover for injuries to other players. But the right-to-left flip revealed another layer of versatility.

"I don't know if it's quite as drastic as this, but in some ways, it's like you're a lefty all of those years, and now, you have to go over to the right of the plate and hit," Harbaugh said. "You have your other hand down. You have your other foot back and everything is backwards; you're setting to the left instead of to the right. All the plays are flipped. I think for him to do it … I was weary of it early in the week. I was just watching him in individual and seeing how he moved, but he did look natural doing it. … It just shows you what a phenomenal athlete he is and how determined he is and really what a good football player he is."

Stanley made the switch from right tackle to left tackle over an entire offseason in college and said it's no small thing to reset your muscle memory.

"That's the hardest part, is just getting your body parts to react the same way," Stanley said. "Offensive line isn't a normal body position for humans to be in, so to alter that after you've been practicing your legs to move a certain way for so long, it doesn't just come naturally. It's definitely a big feat."

Stanley was mighty impressed with the way Yanda carried it off against the Dallas Cowboys.

"But for Marshal," he said, "it's probably just normal."

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