Whenever the Ravens’ offensive line has sensed trouble over the last two seasons, it seems the frequent solution has been to turn to Patrick Mekari.
A year ago, starting center Matt Skura tore up his knee against the Rams at the LA Coliseum. Mekari, a rookie, stepped in to face Aaron Donald and the Rams’ standout defensive line at a stadium about 40 miles from his old high school. He finished the season as the team’s starting center.
This year, he stepped in at right guard when Tyre Phillips went down with an injury against the Steelers in Week 8 and played there until Week 10 against the Patriots, when right tackle D.J. Fluker began to struggle. The Ravens moved Mekari outside to replace Fluker, where he finished the game. In that Patriots game, Skura struggled with his snaps in the driving rain so the next week, Mekari was the team’s starting center once again.
He’s played a do-it-all role for the Ravens in his two years in Baltimore, and has put new meaning to the word versatile for the Ravens' offense.
“Pat is a very good player,” coach John Harbaugh said a few weeks ago. “A very versatile player, that's one of his best strengths. Nobody works harder than Pat Mekari. He just really understands what we're doing. I think he could play any position on the offensive line, and he's played the extra O-lineman this year, which is kind of a tight end position. So, I'm very proud of what he did.”
Mekari spends each week of the regular season practicing his regular position, which is now center, gameplanning like everyone else does. He also prepares as if he’s going to play every position on the offensive line also because, in a pinch, the Ravens may ask him to play anywhere they need.
It’s not uncommon for an offensive lineman to be versatile, to an extent. Fluker and Phillips have played both right guard and right tackle. Orlando Brown Jr. flipped from right to left tackle after Ronnie Stanley’s injury. Interior linemen are often cross-trained as centers. But has provided what Mekari has.
“It’s tough because I’ve got to get ready for all the positions," Mekari said. "If my number is called anywhere, I’ve got to be ready to go. It’s a great experience. Wherever coach needs me to play, I’m more than happy to do it. It just takes a little bit more focus and concentration at certain positions, but I’m grateful to be in the position I am.”
Mekari, in a few different ways, has never been the center of attention. But somehow, he’s always been there when called upon.
For the majority of his high school career at Westlake in Southern California, he wasn’t the most physically imposing player. In his senior year, at least physically, he resembled nothing of the player that’s started five games for the Ravens this season.
“Patrick wasn’t what he is right now from a size standpoint when he was going into his senior year,” former Westlake coach Jim Benkert told NBC Sports Washington in a recent phone interview. “He was probably 6-foot-2 and 260 (pounds) or something. Those guys are a dime a dozen.”
He committed to Utah State after his senior season, but then two major events happened that changed the course of his life: First, Mekari said the University of California had an offensive lineman decommit right before National Signing Day. His brother, Tony, was already a defensive lineman for the Golden Bears.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, Patrick began to grow.
He started for Benkert’s Westlake Warriors mostly as a center. Benkert figured that’s where Patrick was best suited for his future, one that Benkert was excited for even before the growth spurt. Then, Patrick gained muscle and added two to three inches to his frame. At least physically, he wasn’t limited at the next level by his size any longer.
Then, when the Golden Bears lost a commit just before National Signing Day, they jumped all over Patrick.
“They were kind of desperate for an offensive lineman,” Patrick said. “They just handed me one because they knew I would commit because my brother was there -- they were correct. That was kind of my high school career, just always hungry to try and play with my brother and extend with my career.”
Strangely enough, the first thing anyone who knows Patrick wants to mention about the Ravens’ most versatile offensive lineman isn’t related to his on-field ability. It’s about Patrick’s character. The football stuff can come second.
“First off, he’s an amazing human being,” left guard Bradley Bozeman said. “He’s just a great guy, and he’s so freaking versatile. I think he’s played every position on the O-line, tight end, fullback.”
The personal side of Patrick that everyone wants to talk about isn’t fake, either. Almost everyone has a story they’re readily willing to tell about the kind of person he is.
Benkert, who coached both Tony and Patrick and knew them from the time they played youth football, is no different. He still remembers what Patrick did, and continues to do, for his programs.
“We can talk all day about their talent on the football field, but beyond that, you want to talk about their character and the type of overall kids they are,” he said. “I left Westlake and retired in 2014, and then I went to Oaks Christian, a private school. Here I talked to Patrick and he immediately gets on a Zoom call with my linemen. Just having him and being able to talk about his travels through Cal and things and give our kids some tidbits was awesome. He doesn’t know any of my kids.”
His work ethic and people skills come from family, both Patrick and Benkert said. Both of Patrick’s parents were immigrants; his father came from Lebanon and his mother came from Iran. Benkert credits the Mekari family as the reason Patrick, Tony and their younger brother, Jacob, have grown up how they have.
“They sacrificed a lot,” Patrick said. “They served us growing up and sacrificed a lot to make sure we had the lives they wanted to give us. I kind of interpret as now it’s my time to serve them and give them back everything they gave me and more. They’re my motivation.”
Once Patrick joined his brother Tony in Berkley to play college ball, the two shared an apartment and a room together, just like they’d done as kids. Rent wasn’t cheap in Northern California. Their parents were able to watch both of them play at the same school once again, too.
And Patrick’s newfound size meant he played as a true freshman and was the team’s starting left tackle by his junior season.
Patrick went undrafted in the 2019 NFL Draft but found a home in Baltimore, due in part to his versatility. He liked the fit the Ravens provided, and the Ravens knew they had someone that could play tackle, guard or center. It’s unlikely, though, they were aware that could all come in the same game.
Against Washington in the 2019 preseason finale, Patrick started at center and played tackle and guard as well. Soon after, he made the first 53-man roster, and was one of two players (the other was linebacker Otaro Alaka) who extended the Ravens’ streak of an undrafted free agent making the opening roster to 16 seasons.
“I think that’s a tribute to his character, that he’s coachable and does whatever he’s asked to do,” Benkert said. “I don’t mean just on the football field, but in all aspects of his life. He’s a giver, and you don’t see that very often. I just think the world of him.”
Benkert wrote Patrick’s college recommendation letter, too. He ended the essay by telling admissions offices, and anyone that would listen, that Patrick was, “the best society has to offer.”
Patrick has since played well enough to be the Ravens’ starting center down the stretch as they push for a playoff spot. It’d be too much to say that he’s cemented his spot there, but only because if the Ravens need a tackle or a guard in the future, he could find himself playing there, too.
He’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 308 pounds, which puts him on the smaller side for a tackle in the NFL. Those types of numbers aren’t what Patrick has ever valued, though.
“I know I didn’t have the longest arms, I didn’t measure out great at my Pro Day,” Patrick said. “It matters to an extent, but when it’s time to play football, it’s a different kind of thing than 0.1 seconds or measurables and stuff. As long as you’re mentally there and mentally focused, I think you can accomplish a lot outside of what the measurements say.”
It hasn’t been the most up-front Ravens story in a tumultuous and complicated 2020 season, but Mekari's ability, both on and off the field, has been one of the few things the Ravens have been able to count on when they need it most.
“I’ve got a lot more work to do,” he said. “A lot of people want to say they made it, they did it, or they’re finally here, but it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t last, if you don’t set out to do what you’re set out to do. I have a lot I want to do, a lot I want to accomplish. And I’m just getting started. I’m so grateful to be in the position I’m in, but I’m just taking it one step at a time.”