Ray Lewis was not the only All Pro player to retire from the Baltimore Ravens this offseason, C Matt Birk was great player in his own right and he called it a career by going out on top as well. Birk's retirement left the starting center position open and now Head Coach John Harbaugh and his coaching staff will get to watch Gino Gradkowski and A.Q. Shipley battle it out in training camp.
Gradkowski, the fourth round selection a year ago, has basically been given the job, and it is his to lose. Gino got to spend all of last season behind one of the best centers in the NFL and Birk did not shy away from taking him under his wing. Gradkowski did not see much playing time last season, but showed good knowledge of the offense during mini-camp and has quickly gelled with quarterback Joe Flacco.
Gino sports a 6'3'' 300 pound frame with good mobility and is considered to be very tough on the football field. Perhaps the best aspect of Gradkowski's game is his intelligence on the football field and the Ravens would not be worried whatsoever with his ability to call offensive line audibles at the line of scrimmage.
Shipley was acquired by the Ravens in May as some added interior line depth and to give Gradkowski some competition at the center position. Although he is considered a long shot to snag the starting spot, he does have one thing that Gino does not, and that is experience as a starter in the NFL. Shipley started five games for the Indianapolis Colts last season and received high grades in each of those starts.
A.Q. is two inches shorter than Gino, but still sports a 6'1'' 309 pound frame and is agile for a guy of his size. Shipley feels that being slightly shorter helps with his leverage at the line and is not a disadvantage whatsoever.
Baltimore has set themselves up quite nicely at the center position after losing such a highly regarded veteran, and if there is one thing that has been proven by competition it is that it may bring out the best and worst in people, but it always produces the best person for the job and the Ravens have no doubt that the battle at center will show them who is the right man for the job once training camp ends and the quest for a repeat begins.
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