Ravens

Villanueva inspired to play with 'rare' talent, Lamar Jackson

Ravens

When the Baltimore Ravens signed Alejandro Villanueva to become their next right tackle on a two-year deal, it not only marked the rare switch of arch rival teams but also the switch from opposing offensive styles. 

After spending his first six seasons with the Steelers, Villanueva joined the Ravens' run-happy offense to replace Orlando Brown Jr. on the right side of the offensive line. In doing so, Villanueva left an offensive system that favored the passing game with Ben Roethlisberger to an offense synonymous with the running game with Lamar Jackson.   

In fact, no other team had more pass attempts per game than Pittsburgh last year. Inversely, Baltimore attempted the least, while running the ball more than any other team. 

"For us as an offensive line in Pittsburgh it was incredibly challenging," Villanueva said in his introductory press conference on Wednesday. "We had to go with these game plans of passing the ball potentially the entire game and we didn't really practice or rehearse that other part of football that relieved some of that pressure, or angst."

While Villanueva was explaining how his job was more challenging when tasked with trying to keep powerful defensive linemen out of rhythm, he perhaps took an indirect shot at his former Steelers teammate Juju Smith Schuster in the process. 

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"So, the mentality when you're running the ball is obviously better for the offensive line. I’m assuming it’s not as much fun for the receivers because they’re not getting all of the catches, they’re making the Tik Toks and and they’re having fun on their social media," Villanueva said. 

 

Smith-Schuster has been making Tik Tok dance videos in the Pittsburgh locker room and before and after games for a couple seasons now. Maybe Villanueva will start dancing more in an offense where his skill set will be of greater use. 

"But for an offensive lineman it's definitely an awesome experience to find angles to find the hips of the defensive linemen. To be able to use your hands, be aggressive, take more risks on your blocks, be able to work, obviously, in tandem with the players on your left and right instead of being on an island (in pass blocking)," Villanueva said. 

Of course, when Lamar Jackson is the quarterback you're now tasked with protecting it's not hard to believe Villanueva when he says he's excited to get started. 

"There are certain players in the NFL that inspire you to get the best out of you because of how rare their talent is. I felt that when I was playing with Le'Veon Bell," Villanueva said. "Le'Veon Bell would make some plays with the football and you always felt energized as an offensive lineman to continue to give your best for that player."

Villanueva helped the Steelers offensive line become among the league's elite group of blockers while Bell was in his prime. The first year Villanueva was selected to the Pro Bowl was 2017 - when Bell made First Team All-Pro in what was his last truly productive season. 

Pittsburgh moved away from that play style since Bell's departure. Now, Villanueva is looking to bring his strengths to the NFL's best rushing offense. 

"I don't think there's a doubt in anyone's mind when you see Lamar Jackson play, you want to do everything for him, protect him and continue see the magic he displays on the field," Villanueva said. "Because not only does he make the game of football incredibly fun for the fans and everybody out there, but also wins you a lot of football games and that's something the franchise has to value."