New Ravens OT Alejandro Villanueva energized by prospect of blocking for Lamar Jackson

Alejandro Villanueva is staying in the AFC North and has switched sides of the most heated rivalry of the last two decades.

That alone is enough to turn friend into foe. But for Villanueva, he's already done the opposite with Lamar Jackson by joining the Ravens. Judging by his responses Wednesday, the two-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle can't wait to get started.

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

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

The response quickly made its way to Twitter, where Jackson responded in kind:

Jackson isn't just a thrilling talent, either. Thanks to his game-altering mobility and Baltimore's current construction, the Ravens have led the NFL in rushing in each of the last two seasons.

This means Villanueva is walking into an offensive situation that differs pretty significantly from the one he'd inhabited in Pittsburgh. Instead of knowing he'll likely have to protect Ben Roethlisberger roughly 40 or more times, he can count on Baltimore's ground-based prowess to provide him some relief in pass blocking -- and offer an opportunity to unleash his aggression in the run game.

That has Villanueva excited, and also a bit relieved knowing he won't have to be tested quite as many times by the fearsome pass rushers in the AFC North -- namely, one in Cleveland.

"I think the mindset, when you know you're with a team that runs the ball well, it involves every single room in the offense, everybody is in unison, it's a lot of timing involved with running the ball," Villanueva said. "You get the timing right, you get the nice tracks, then you get to run the ball. For an offensive lineman it's very easy, because you don't have a lot of angst when the team is running the ball well.

"When you have to pass the ball, especially like we had to do last year (in Pittsburgh), it involves an incredible amount of pressure because you know the pass rushers can get in a rhythm. So you're going to start going against a player like, let's say, Myles Garrett, and he's going to get 10, 15 passes in a row to set up moves to be able to attack every single angle of your body, try different moves. He has 50-60 snaps to try everything that he wants to do on you, so it becomes very stressful.

"For us as an offensive line in Pittsburgh last year, it was incredibly challenging because we knew we had to go with these game plans that involved passing the ball potentially the entire game and not really practice or rehearse that other part of football that relieves some of that angst. The mentality, when you have a balanced offense, or when you run the ball, it's obviously better for the offensive line."

Clearly, those in Pittsburgh weren't entirely content with the Steelers' offensive shift as it became clear the Steelers lacked punch on the ground and the blocking effectiveness to manufacture it in 2020. Pittsburgh's disproportionate offense ended up forcing Roethlisberger to attempt 40 or more passes in all but three games from Week 6 through 16 last season.

That type of lopsided offense left the Steelers without the balance necessary to win games late in the season, contributing significantly to the Steelers' five losses in their final six games -- including a 48-37 loss to the Browns in their wild card meeting.

Jackson, meanwhile, attempted 30 or more passes just twice in all of 2020. The Ravens reached the Divisional Round, a weekend of football the eliminated Steelers watched from home.

"I'm assuming it's not as fun for the wide receivers because they're not getting all the catches -- they're making the TikToks and they're having fun on their social media," Villanueva said of Baltimore's preference for the run while also seemingly taking a thinly veiled shot at former Steelers teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster.

With this in mind, Villanueva is happy with how things turned out for him. Now it's up to the Ravens to prove he made the right move.

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