By David Driver, Special CorrespondentOWINGS MILLS, Md. – Cedar Rapids native Marshal Yanda was sitting at home in Maryland when he got a telephone call late last month from John Harbaugh, the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens.
“I thought he was checking on my ribs,” said Yanda, the right guard for the playoff-bound Ravens.
That would seem logical since Yanda, 27, a former standout for Anamosa High and with the Iowa Hawkeyes, has been playing through pain the past few days.
But Harbaugh was calling to let Yanda know he had been named to the first Pro Bowl of his NFL career. He joined running back Ray Rice and fullback Vonta Leach as offensive Pro Bowlers with the Ravens, who ranked No. 3 in rushing yards (1,105) in the last seven games of the season.
“That was an awesome accomplishment, to be part of that group,” said the 6-foot-3, 315-pound Yanda, standing by his locker following a morning practice in suburban Maryland. “I felt honored.”
Yanda, in his fifth pro season, was quick to point out that the success of a team helps players get individual honors. “You don’t see too many Pro Bowl players from teams that are 5-11,” he said.
The Ravens are far from that type of team. Baltimore was 12-4 in regular-season play this season to win the AFC North title, which gave the Ravens a first-round bye and a home game against Houston on Sunday at noon. Baltimore is 8-0 at home this season.
“It is huge. You get that extra week of recovery to be ready and play,” he said of the bye. “That is big for us.”
This will be the fourth straight year the Ravens have made the playoffs.
“It makes you realize that is not common. To be in the playoffs every year … you don’t take that for granted,” Yanda said.
So what changes in the playoffs? “Ball security is obviously huge and running the football is huge in the playoffs,” he said. “The playoffs come down to one or two plays, usually.”
What if the Ravens end up playing the Steelers again? “I would expect another normal Pittsburgh-Baltimore game. It will be two good teams coming at it. I don’t expect anything less,” he said.
Yanda, a right guard, started all 16 games this season for the Ravens. Last year he started at right tackle in both playoff games as Baltimore totaled 516 total yards, including a team playoff record of 390 yards against the Chiefs in a wild card game Jan. 9, 2011.
Yanda was named to the Sports Illustrated (Peter King) All-Pro team in 2010. Now this year the accolades came with his first selection to the Pro Bowl, which will be held Jan. 29 in Hawaii.
Due to thigh and rib contusions it did not look like Yanda would play in Week 17 in the regular-season finale at Cincinnati. The Ravens had clinched a playoff berth but had not locked down a first-round bye going into the finale, which was a 24-16 win against the Bengals.
“It was tough. Once I got the blood flowing I felt pretty decent out there,” Yanda said. “I could play at a high level, so that was the important thing. I wanted to be part of that win. I knew they needed me. Two days after the Cleveland game (Dec. 24) I felt there was no way I could play. I progressed as the week went on.”
He had a big block on the fourth play of the game against the Bengals that allowed Rice to go 70 yards for a touchdown.
“During the game I felt pretty decent out there,” Yanda said. “At other times I did not feel as good. But overall I felt pretty decent.”
“I fell on my rib late in the fourth quarter. I was in a lot of pain. Everyone wanted to give me a hug (after the game). I told them to get away,” he said, with a big laugh.
What did he learn about himself by playing in the regular-season finale? “You want to play through pain. I am a quick healer and I was able to get back out there. I was able to play at high level and that was the important thing. I did not want to hurt the team in anyway.”
Yanda’s grit has made him a team leader. “There is no tougher than Marshal,” Harbaugh told reporters Jan. 2. “That is a reflection of our whole team. He optimizes that, certainly. He won’t tell you much about it, but for him to say he could barely breathe and play the way he did, obviously it was huge for us. He is an anchor of our offensive line, and when he is in there, we’re a lot better.”
Editor’s note: David Driver, the former sports editor of the Baltimore Examiner, is a free-lance writer in Maryland and can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com.