Locking up with veteran San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Bryant Young as a rookie, Baltimore Ravens guard Ben Grubbs’ powerful leg drive and low center of gravity allowed him to gain superior leverage.
In an instant during his first NFL start back in 2007, Grubbs toppled Young at the line of scrimmage and left him on his back as a defeated man.
“Bryant is an old pro and we went at it every play,” Grubbs said. “I pancaked him once and that was nice. He gave me my props and that really meant a lot. I remember saying to myself, ‘I can do this. It’s just football.’”
For Grubbs, it was a pivotal moment in a burgeoning career as he made the progression from a raw first-round draft pick into a blocking force to be reckoned with.
For a young offensive lineman, there is virtually no higher accomplishment than manhandling a quality, experienced defender.
Now, Grubbs is emerging as one of the top young guards in the game as he enters his third season.
Blending ideal size and strength with the speed and quickness to pull and get downfield to track down linebackers at the second level, Grubbs is regarded as the total package at left guard.
“Ben definitely plays at a high level, and that’s no accident,” said center Matt Birk, a six-time Pro Bowl selection. “He epitomizes what you want in an offensive lineman. He has a lot of pride. He has toughness. He has everything.
“His physical talent sets him apart, and that’s why he continues to get better. He’s athletic. He’s got all the tools. He pushes himself. He does everything well.”
As Grubbs attempts to make the leap from highly regarded young lineman into a Pro Bowl selection, he’s tasked with recuperating from offseason ankle surgery.
Grubbs has been limited at times and has been dealing with tightness in the ankle stemming from the surgery.
The Ravens are convinced that Grubbs has the work ethic and the skills to rebound from the injury and manufacture a top-flight season.
“Ben has a chance to be a dominant player,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s painful, but he’s really a tough guy. I’ll be really surprised if he’s not a dominant football player.”
Grubbs toughed it out last season to start every game as the Ravens built the NFL’s fourth-ranked running game with 2,376 yards and a team-record 20 rushing touchdowns. And Grubbs is slowly regaining his mobility.
“I think I have a few more hills to climb with it, but I’m fine,” Grubbs said.
The former consensus All-American out of Auburn has bulked up to slightly over 315 pounds, gaining weight and strength through a diligent weightlifting program.
There are a lot of bigger guards than Grubbs, but he’s stout enough to not get plowed over by gargantuan Cleveland Browns nose guard Shaun Rogers, a 380-pound super heavyweight.
“You definitely need size in the AFC North because there are a lot of powerful guys, but you should be able to block them most of the time with quickness and leverage,” Grubbs said. “Beating them to the punch is very important.”
A heavy dose of the Ravens’ inside yardage last season was generated by old-fashioned dive plays with Pro Bowl fullback Le’Ron McClain.
“When Ben blocks for you, there’s usually a big hole and a lot of daylight in front of you,” running back Willis McGahee said. “He’s a beast.”
And the beast from little Eclectic, Ala., (pop. 1,037) has all-star ambitions.
“Definitely, when I set my goals, the Pro Bowl was one of them,” Grubbs said. “That’s how we measure talent, but the team comes first. I think my game is always in progress. I can never get complacent.”
Grubbs, 25, has already played in 32 NFL games.
His name comes up in NFL circles when the conversation turns toward linemen on the cusp of separating themselves from a pack of anonymous blockers.
“I’m a veteran, but I’m still a young guy in this game,” Grubbs said. “This is like night and day since my rookie year.”