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By Matt Vensel | September 10, 2013
Last Thursday, for the first time since the 2008 season, someone not named Matt Birk started for the Ravens at center. Gino Gradkowski, a second-year player out of small-school Delaware, made his first NFL start there. To the novice eye -- this writer included -- evaluating offensive line play can be a difficult endeavor, especially at center, where that player is in the middle of the mess and sometimes ends up blocking no one in particular. When I went back and watched the game again, I saw many plays when Gradkowski held his ground against big Denver Broncos defensive linemen Kevin Vickerson and Sylvester Williams.
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By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun | September 30, 2014
Remember when everybody wanted Juan Castillo run out of town, when the run-game coordinator was a symbol of all that went wrong with the Ravens last year? This offseason, Ravens coach John Harbaugh changed his title to offensive line coach, and stuck by Castillo, calling him one of the best offensive line coaches in the league. Harbaugh's faith has been rewarded. Joe Flacco has been sacked only three times in four games. Only Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton , who has yet to be sacked, has been taken down less, and the Bengals have played one fewer game than the Ravens.
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By Matt Vensel | November 18, 2013
It has been a rough transition for the Ravens at the center position, going from one of the best centers of his generation in Matt Birk to second-year player Gino Gradkowski. That says more about how underrated Birk may have been in his final couple of years in Baltimore than it does about Gradkowski's struggles. But quietly, perhaps because the Ravens have been losing, Gradkowski has been improving at the position over the past few weeks. And his performance Sunday was probably his best of the season.
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By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun | July 18, 2014
The Ravens' top decision makers are always preaching about the importance of roster competition. They want it at every position, not just for starting roles but for special teams units and back-end roster spots. Heading into training camp which officially begins with the first full-squad practice on July 24, the Ravens' front office has assembled a 90-man roster that will need to be whittled down to 53 in the coming weeks. The roster has a mixture of youth and experience and is particularly deep at wide receiver where 12 guys are competing for five or six spots.
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By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun | October 1, 2013
While Ravens coach John Harbaugh acknowledged Monday that the team is “feeling” the difference with the line calls now that first-year starter Gino Gradkowski is starting at center and not the retired Matt Birk , that shouldn't be taken as a sign that the coaching staff is singling Gradkowski out for the offensive line's struggles. In fact, Harbaugh praised how Gradkowski has held up physically, which was the big question mark given that he's considered undersized for his position.
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By Aaron Wilson and The Baltimore Sun | December 27, 2013
The continuing education of Ravens center Gino Gradkowski has involved everything from grappling with massive Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to making critical, last-second line calls to adjusting blocking assignments. Ever since six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk retired in February, Gradkowski has been learning on the job and experiencing growing pains while trying to hold his own against some of the biggest, most talented defensive linemen in the NFL. The center position demands a lot: intellect, technique and brute strength.
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By Edward Lee | August 3, 2012
Matt Birk sat out his fifth straight practice, and coach John Harbaugh essentially ruled the Ravens center out of the team's preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons next Thursday. “Matt is resting,” Harbaugh said Friday. “He had some back spasms, too. It's probably both me and Matt. Matt has had the back spasms, but I am going to probably slow him down a little bit more, especially this week, and then maybe next week after the game, we will get him back a little bit more.” Birk, the 36-year-old center who is in the midst of his 15th training camp in the NFL, is listed first on the team's depth chart, but had been plagued by health issues.
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By Jeff Zrebiec | January 17, 2013
Running back Bernard Pierce (knee) and cornerback Asa Jackson (thigh) were the only Ravens not participating in the early portion of Thursday's practice open to reporters. Pierce didn't have a carry in Saturday's playoff game against the Denver Broncos after the third quarter. However, he said Wednesday that he will play Sunday in the AFC championship game against the New England Patriots. Pierce was limited in Wednesday's practice. Jackson was the only Ravens' player not to participate in Wednesday's practice.
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By Matt Vensel and The Baltimore Sun | September 10, 2012
When backup center Gino Gradkowski walks into M&T Bank Stadium for his first regular-season game as a member of the Ravens, he will have about 20 family members in the stadium. His big brother will be there, too, but he will be standing across the field on the Cincinnati Bengals' sideline. Bruce Gradkowski is the lone backup quarterback for the Bengals and a six-year NFL veteran. “We talk all the time,” said Gino Gradkowski, a fourth-round pick in April's draft. “He's a big shoulder for me to lean on. It helps me out a lot to have him. He's always helping me out and telling me what to expect and how to handle myself on and off the field.
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By Jeff Zrebiec and The Baltimore Sun | August 8, 2013
TAMPA, Fla. - Most of the Ravens' position battles won't be decided until much later in the preseason, but the starting lineups for Thursday's opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers included no significant surprises. There were some questions about who would start at middle linebacker, but free-agent pickup Daryl Smith started there and he was the Ravens' most active and effective defensive player in the early going. With Jameel McClain on the physically-unable-to-perform list, Josh Bynes started at weak-side linebacker and made a strong play to sniff out a screen pass in the second quarter, resulting in a Buccaneers' punt.
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By Jeff Zrebiec and The Baltimore Sun | June 25, 2014
At the end of their Super Bowl XLVII-winning season, the Ravens were feeling pretty good about their 2012 draft class. Their first pick, strong-side linebacker Courtney Upshaw , who was taken early in the second round, played in all 16 games and started nine, made 55 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks and forced a fumble in the Super Bowl that led to a second-quarter touchdown drive for the Ravens. Second-rounder Kelechi Osemele started all 16 regular-season games at right tackle and then moved to left guard, where he was dominant at times during the Ravens' Super Bowl run. Third-round selection Bernard Pierce , Ray Rice's primary backup at running back, also picked up his game in the playoffs, averaging 5.2 yards per carry after a regular season in which he gained 532 yards and scored a touchdown.
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By Jeff Zrebiec and The Baltimore Sun | June 2, 2014
The most pleasing sight for Ravens officials during the first week of organized team activities had to be Kelechi Osemele popping off the ball and running around the field like a guy who was truly happy to be healthy again. There's not enough contact in these OTAs to determine how healthy and strong Osemele is after his back surgery in November, but the third-year guard certainly looked the part, sprinting from drill to drill and to and from the huddle. There is a lot of talk about the competition at right tackle, and that's understandable.
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By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun | May 20, 2014
None of the Ravens' three roster additions following their rookie minicamp over the weekend are strangers to the NFL. Tight end Phillip Supernaw , 24, spent part of the 2012 season on the Houston Texans' practice squad and played in one game for the Texans last season. Fullback Shaun Chapas , 26, played in six career games for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Dallas Cowboys during the 2011 and 2012 campaigns. And offensive guard Will Rackley , 25, played three seasons for the Jaguars, starting 25 games.
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By Jeff Zrebiec and The Baltimore Sun | May 2, 2014
From now until May 8, the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, The Sun will look at where the Ravensstand at each position, the likelihood that they will address that spot early in the draft and some of the prospects that they may consider. The Ravens have eight total picks in the three-day draft: one in each of the first, second, fifth and sixth rounds, and two each in the third and fourth rounds. Today we'll be examining the offensive line: Current offensive linemen under contract: Tackles - Eugene Monroe, Rick Wagner, Jah Reid, David Mims; Guards - Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele; Centers - Jeremy Zuttah, Gino Gradkowski, A.Q. Shipley, Ryan Jensen, Reggie Stephens.
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Mike Preston | April 21, 2014
The Ravens will go over numerous scenarios in the days leading up to the NFL draft that might play out in the first round, but they probably won't make a move until they are on the clock with the No. 17 overall pick. And they could trade with another team and move back in the first round. The consensus among most top team executives and so-called experts is that this is a deep draft, and that most of the top 10 to 15 players will be gone when it's time for the Ravens to choose. So unless a highly rated player falls to the Ravens, general manager Ozzie Newsome could decide to move back to a slot between Nos. 24 and 28 in the first round.
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By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun | March 25, 2014
Ravens coach John Harbaugh made it clear that despite a busy two weeks, the Ravens aren't done in free agency. They still have more work to do throughout their roster, including an offensive line that remains under construction. Harbaugh revealed part of the organization's plans for the offensive line on Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings, indicating that recent trade acquisition Jeremy Zuttah will be the starting center and Kelechi Osemele is in line to start at left guard rather than right tackle.
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By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun | April 27, 2013
The Ravens used both of their sixth-round picks to add depth to positions that they had already addressed in the draft. With the 200 th overall pick, they selected Notre Dame defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the Fighting Irish's loss to Alabama in the BCS championship game. Three picks later, they grabbed Ryan Jensen, an offensive guard out of Colorado State-Pueblo. Earlier in the day, the Ravens took Ohio State defensive end/outside linebacker John Simon (fourth round)
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By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun | July 18, 2014
The Ravens' top decision makers are always preaching about the importance of roster competition. They want it at every position, not just for starting roles but for special teams units and back-end roster spots. Heading into training camp which officially begins with the first full-squad practice on July 24, the Ravens' front office has assembled a 90-man roster that will need to be whittled down to 53 in the coming weeks. The roster has a mixture of youth and experience and is particularly deep at wide receiver where 12 guys are competing for five or six spots.
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Mike Preston | March 25, 2014
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome is in his bargain-basement mode these days. Over the weekend the Ravens added two new players, which got a lot of fans excited, but neither center Jeremy Zuttah, formerly of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, nor former St. Louis Rams safety Darian Stewart should make a dramatic difference to the Ravens this season. It appears that Newsome is filling in some gaps, like finding another backup running back or a rotational defensive lineman, but the major lifting is over until the NFL draft in May. Oh sure, Zuttah is better than Gino Gradkowski, who started at center last season for the Ravens.
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By Matt Vensel and The Baltimore Sun | March 24, 2014
The Ravens, at first glance, appear to have gotten better at center after trading Sunday for Jeremy Zuttah . Zuttah, a 2008 third-round pick, is an established veteran, having started 76 games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during his six-year NFL career. After bouncing around between both guard positions and the center spot, Zuttah was mostly a center for the Buccaneers in recent years. But while he should be an upgrade over Gino Gradkowski, it is no sure thing he will stabilize the position.
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