Is Gradkowski Ravens long-term answer at center?

Is Gradkowski Ravens long-term answer at center?
January 7, 2014, 1:45 pm
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Harbaugh on next year's improvements

The Ravens’ starting center position remains an issue heading into the offseason. Gino Gradkowski started all 16 games, but the Ravens sorely missed retired center Matt Birk in 2013, probably even more than expected. Birk was masterful at calling offensive line signals and identifying blitzes, something that Gradkowski struggled with.

“Early in the season, Gino would probably be the first to tell you that we had a lot of problems,” coach John Harbaugh said last week. “You go from Matt Birk that does everything, that makes every call, and in some ways tells every lineman what to do in the heat of battle because he is so good – because you’ve got an offensive line coach basically in there playing center for you – to a guy that is doing it for the first time. That was part of the reason that we didn’t have a hat on a hat a lot of times early on, and that was a tough transition for us.”

Harbaugh pointed out that Gradkowski made significant improvement as the season progressed.

“By the end of the year, he is making those calls and doing a good job with that,” Harbaugh said. “A really smart guy, huge student of the game.”

Gradkowski played through a knee injury that will require minor offseason surgery, and at age 25, one would expect Gradkowski to improve after a year of experience starting. However, Harbaugh also had this to say about the offensive line last week.

“I think there will be a competitive situation pretty much at every spot on the offensive line except right guard.”

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Gradkowski is the incumbent starter now, better than A. Q. Shipley, who Gradkowski beat out during training camp. It is unlikely rookie Ryan Jensen would be ready ot start next season, but perhaps a veteran in free agency, like Saints center Brian De La Puente, is somebody the Ravens would consider signing.

That leaves Gradkowski as one of many Ravens with something to prove in 2014.