With the Ravens in their second week of voluntary offseason team activities (OTAs) this week, players, especially young ones, are already trying to make a name for themselves and work their way up the depth chart.
All this week we are taking a look at five key position battles that figure to be waged through the summer as the Ravens craft their 2013 roster.
Today: No. 3: Center -- Gino Gradkowski vs. A.Q. Shipley
With Matt Birk retiring after 14 years in the league and the past four with the Ravens, the Ravens will have a new starting center next season. And other than perhaps at left tackle, nothing will disrupt an offensive line more than problems at the center position.
The Ravens have said all the right things about Gino Gradkowski, a second-year player who watched and waited behind Birk last season. But coach John Harbaugh likes to say that there is competition for every job, and to that end the Ravens went out and signed Shipley.
The Ravens also drafted Ryan Jensen out of Colorado State-Pueblo in the sixth round of the NFL draft this spring, and have former practice squad center Reggie Stephens on the roster, but it is believed that Gradkowski and Shipley are in the running for the starting job.
Gradkowski (6-3,300), a fourth-round draft pick a year ago, is the most familiar with the Ravens offense after working under Birk all last season. Gradkowski was limited primarily to special teams, though he did play the majority of the offensive snaps in the regular season finale at Cincinnati.
"Gino did a nice job last year. He played really well in the Bengals game, which we felt like that was a big test for him," coach John Harbaugh said at the team's pre-draft news conference. "We had an opportunity to see him against a really good defensive line, and he held up. He’s a little more physical and stout than he may look, and he’s got great feet. He’s a smart guy and it matters to him."
Shipley (6-1, 309) has one thing that Gradkowski lacks: starting experience. It has been a long and winding road to the Ravens for Shipley, who came from the Colts in a trade for a conditional 2014 draft pick.
Shipley, 27, was a seventh-round draft pick by the Steelers in 2009 out of Penn State, but he never played with them. He spent the 2009 season with the Steelers practice squad, and was on the Eagles practice squad the next season. He then joined the Colts last season and played in 14 games with four starts.
“I felt I played well enough to be a starter on any team in the league,” Shipley told the Ravens official website. “I think that’s why I generated a little buzz on the trade block.”
Shipley also stressed that is ready to compete for a starting job, which is just what Harbaugh and the Ravens want.
"I’ve had to work for everything I’ve ever had," he said. "When it comes to competing, I enjoy it and feel very confident.”