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OWINGS MILLS — Mike Flynn hasnâ€™t really had to move a muscle to defend his turf, or had his job security seriously threatened.
At least not yet.
Heâ€™s still the first person on the Baltimore Ravensâ€™ offense to touch the football before every snap. One of two remaining starting offensive linemen from the Ravensâ€™ Super Bowl championship squad along with Jonathan Ogden, he remains entrenched as a locker room leader and the starting center for the defending AFC North champions.
Yet, after a decade in the NFL, Flynn is approaching a crossroads: How much longer can he hold off the advancement of youth?
â€œThere are different stresses on me,â€ Flynn acknowledged during a June minicamp. â€œIâ€™ve got younger guys breathing down my neck. Itâ€™s not like seven years ago where I was just trying to survive.
â€œItâ€™s been 11 years for me, and theyâ€™ve been bringing in guys for 11 years. The difference is Iâ€™m older now. Iâ€™m a different player. That happens. It’s part of the business.â€
The 33-year-old former undrafted free agent from the University of Maine is coming off an injury-free season where he started every game and celebrated his 100th career start. He falls into the roster’s proven commodity category.
However, the Ravens could decide to shift promising second-year lineman Chris Chester from his current starting position at right guard inside to center. That could have a potentially negative effect on Flynn’s status, and possibly signal the end of his tenure as a starter.
A former tight end at the University of Oklahoma, Chester is regarded as one of the Ravensâ€™ most athletic blockers. He heads into training camp with an improving grip on the right guard job.
Viewed as the Ravensâ€™ center of the future, Chesterâ€™s main priority is emerging as one of the line’s five starters. If he winds up being the center, he certainly wouldnâ€™t mind.
â€œI do definitely enjoy the aspects of center, being a leader at that position,â€ Chester said. â€œDown the road, I would definitely enjoy it. But if guard is the way it goes, thatâ€™s fine, too.
â€œI have nothing but respect for Mike and how much he knows. Weâ€™re definitely going to be competing and pushing each other. Mikeâ€™s seniority is a big deal.â€
Depending upon how rookie first-round guard Ben Grubbs progresses as he competes with Chester on the right side, the Ravens could have several options for the framework of their offensive line.
One scenario is going with a younger interior line with third-year left guard Jason Brown lining up next to Chester at center with Grubbs becoming the new right guard.
â€œObviously coming into last year, it was a little bit too big of a learning curve for Chris at center and thatâ€™s partly why Mike is there,â€ said offensive line coach Chris Foerster, adding that the organization feels that Chester is the best right guard on the team at this point. â€œMike had a good year at center, graded out very well and stayed healthy for all 16 games. He’s coming off a good year.â€
Flynnâ€™s primary strengths as a center are his leadership, willingness to play hurt, institutional knowledge, savvy line calls and above-average mobility. Although hefty nose guards like the Pittsburgh Steelersâ€™ Casey Hampton have the girth to overwhelm the 6-foot-3, 305-pound Flynn at the point of attack, he usually manages to wall them off with his footwork and determination.
And the Ravens allowed a franchise-record 17 sacks last season.
â€œAt this point, I donâ€™t change anything,â€ Flynn said. â€œHopefully, the old guy can outsmart the young guy. This is the first time in two years I havenâ€™t had surgery, which is really big.
â€œTo me, itâ€™s a good feeling. Hopefully, my knees are getting used to playing football without being in a lot of pain.â€
Flynn, who has been with the Ravens since 1997 when he beat the odds to make the team as an undrafted player from a Division I-AA school that competes in the Yankee Conference, isnâ€™t sure when his NFL career is going to end. He describes his plans as year to year at this stage.
The pressure isnâ€™t a new experience, and he shrugs it off just as he does growing older and sprouting gray hairs.
â€œYou get used to being under the gun,â€ Flynn said. â€œIf you donâ€™t perform in this business, youâ€™re done regardless of whether itâ€™s your fifth year or your 11th year.â€
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.