By GERRY AHERN — USA TODAY SPORTS
New Orleans, La. — There’s a new front in the battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy.
With former Iowa standout Marshal Yanda and ex-Iowa State mainstay Kelechi Osemele making up 40 percent of the AFC champion Baltimore Ravens offensive line, a rivalry has expanded from the cornfields to the capital of crabcakes.
Osemele, who belted out the Cyclones’ fight song for a radio interviewer at Super Bowl 47 Media Day and who has been known to wear his Iowa State letterman jacket to Ravens practice, beamed when asked if he and Yanda had a wager on this year’s Hawkeyes-Cyclones showdown. ISU won 9-6.
“I did pretty well,” the rookie said. “I’m not going to put a number on it, but I did pretty well.”
Sixth-year pro Yanda too declined to disclose financial details.
“I might have lost some money,” he said, smirking. “But that’s the way it goes.”
The Ravens offensive line has been going quite well — especially in the postseason — en route to Sunday’s matchup against the San Francisco 49ers. Yanda and Osemele, along with linemates Bryant McKinnie, Matt Birk and Michael Oher, have done an exemplary job protecting quarterback Joe Flacco and opening holes for running back Ray Rice.
A late-season switch that returned McKinnie to the lineup at left tackle, moved Oher to right tackle and placed Osemele at left guard has paid big dividends.
The Ravens yielded just one sack in a first-round playoff victory over the Indianapolis Colts. Flacco was hit just twice. In an overtime road triumph over the Denver Broncos, Flacco was tackled for just one loss. And in the AFC Championship Game win over the New England Patriots, Flacco was sacked twice for just minus-5 yards. The quarterback continually had time to find open receivers downfield.
“I think we found the right combination at the right time,” said Yanda, a Pro Bowl selection who NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger called the best guard in football. “That’s a big challenge for all three of those guys to be able to switch positions, especially (Osemele) as a rookie, to be able to play every game at right tackle as a rookie and then in the playoffs, switch to left guard.
“Everything in his mind is flipped, you’re in a left-handed stance. Obviously, your position of power is different when you switch stances, so for him to be able to do that, and be that ready when you haven’t played (there) all year, that was huge.”
The precocious Osemele had little problem picking up his new post.
“Mentally it was definitely difficult flipping the plays around and getting the calls reversed,” he said. “As far as the physical aspect it wasn’t too difficult. (Left guard) was initially the position I expected to play. It comes down to hands and feet.”
Yanda and Osemele have become close, despite their clashing college choices. Their mutual respect is evident.
“It’ s kind of a neat deal,” Yanda said. “We played next to each other for the entire regular season. He’s a good, hard-working kid with a bright future.
“I always give him a hard time. I tell him to take all this in. We won the division and went to the Super Bowl in his rookie year. I tell him this doesn’t happen very often in your rookie year. I know he doesn’t take it for granted. He’s playing great.”
Osemele enjoys getting his digs in on the elder Yanda. Good naturedly, of course.
“It’s an interesting dynamic,” Osemele said of their relationship. “We kind of mess with each other sometimes. He’ll give me flak about wearing my letterman, or I’ll make a comment about them not making a bowl game this year. He’ll talk about how they have way more guys in the league than we do.
“But we’re good friends, good teammates.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football