Less than a week ago, six time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk retired, leaving the starting center spot open for the Baltimore Ravens heading into the Super Bowl defending 2013 season, and 2012 rookie center Gino Gradkowski is the odds on replacement for Birk.
Gradkowski was drafted by the Ravens in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft out of the University of Delaware. Although he did not start a single game this season, he did play in every game, including 73 of 89 offensive snaps in the regular season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals when the Ravens rested most of their offensive starters.
Does Birk believe Gradkowski is the man for the job? That is obvious when during his retirement press conference, he was asked about Gino and he stated,
"Gino will be fine," Birk said during his retirement announcement last week at Battle Grove Elementary in Baltimore. "The one thing about football is there's a lot of tangible things or requirements that you need, but I think the biggest thing about football is that it's a character game, because it's hard. It's different from other sports, and Gino's got that. He's a great guy. He's got a fantastic family, and Gino will do whatever it takes to be successful."
"I don't think I could ever replace a guy like Matt, especially off the field, with his leadership qualities in the locker room," Gradkowski said. "He's unlike any other person I've ever been around. I'm just excited for the opportunity. I know I'll have to earn this spot because nothing is ever just handed to you."
Ultimately I believe that the Ravens are going to be just fine with Gradkowski snapping the football, especially the way he played in his one extensive appearance this season against Cincinnati when he held his own against the Bengals Pro Bowl tackle Geno Atkins as the offense gained 202 yards on the ground that game. Although he is a little undersized in regards to centers around the league, he is a very smart player and has the right attitude to succeed. Baltimore could be looking at a Delaware to Delaware center to quarterback exchange for years to come.
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