It has been nearly two months since the last time the Baltimore Ravens won a football game. The season has been over for more than a month, which means fans – like me – go through withdrawal and do stupid things.
Among those stupid things is re-watching the most painful aspects of the 2013 Ravens season, mainly the offensive line entire offense, and particularly a certain center in his first year on the job.
Second-year center Gino Gradkowski was thrown into the fire last season after spending his first NFL season sitting behind (and not really learning) from Matt Birk. With Birk’s retirement came Gradkowski chance to prove himself as the team’s new franchise center. He started his 2013 campaign by beating out newcomer A.Q. Shipley for the starting job, and heading into the regular season, Gradkowski didn’t appear to be too bad of an option.
Yet here we are.
After two seasons in the NFL and just one as a full-timer, the genuine question can be asked: is Gino Gradkowski a lost cause?
While it’s hard to accept the fact that a former fourth-round pick could already be on the downward trend of his career, it’s just as hard to vouch for Gradkowski as the long-term answer as Baltimore’s starting center (or even backup center).
Gradkowski does have these two things going for him: he’s still only 25 and he only has one year of starting experience.
Could 2013 be a blip on the radar of a potentially long career for Gradkowski? Maybe.
But given his 2013 season, there really isn’t much to build on, and Gradkowski was just about as bad as a starting NFL center can get.
Let’s take a look at Gradkowski’s 2013 struggles.
The first thing that stands out as an obvious negative for Gradkowski is his size. He’s listed at 300 pounds on the official Baltimore Ravens site.
Size doesn’t matter if a player compensates for it with added strength and technique (as Birk did), but Gradkowski doesn’t provide much of either.
As a run blocker is where Gradkowski’s physical disadvantage shows.
In Week 17 against the Cincinnati Bengals, Gradkowski faced defensive tackle Domata Peko, and he struggled to handle Peko’s size advantage.
On an outside run Gradkowski was one-on-one with Peko.
Not even a full second after engagement, Peko threw Gradkowski off him as if a 180-pound high school fullback was trying to block him.
And Ray Rice, for the umpteenth time in 2013, experienced the result of Gradkowski’s inability to block.
Fine, let’s give Gradkowski the benefit of the doubt on this one. Peko is a fairly large defensive tackle and Gradkowski was outmatched physically.
But he can still block one of the smallest safeties in the NFL, right?
Against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thanksgiving night, Gino met Troy Polamalu upfield on another outside run.
With Rice trailing behind, if Gradkowski can seal off his man, this could turn into a big run play.
Instead, Polamalu scoffs at Gradkowski’s poor attempt of a block and dips his shoulder right through the lineman.
Which leaves us with a result of a swallowed up Rice that includes Gradkowski still attempting to regain control of Polamalu as the tackle is being made.
Pass protection wasn’t much better for Gradkowski, whose field awareness was more of a downfall for him than lack of functional strength.
Again in Week 17, Gradkowski failed to react in time to a play he saw plenty of just two weeks prior against the Detroit Lions.
With Gradkowski isolated without a man to block, his only job at this point is to either help if a fellow lineman falters, or be ready for a stunt.
At this point, you can begin to tell that defensive end Michael Johnson (93) is coming toward the middle on a stunt. Gradkowski, looking the other way, doesn’t realize it until it’s already too late.
This sets up for a very unhappy (and probably scared) Joe Flacco, who has to attempt to avoid the oncoming Johnson as Gradkowski trails behind in a post-whiff position.
Flacco would probably prefer to play without shoulder pads or a helmet behind an All-Pro center than to have Gradkowski protect him.
Let’s not forget the Gradkowski’s best play of the season, though.
In a pivotal November game against the Chicago Bears, the Ravens rallied back and were in position to take the lead with less than 10 seconds to play.
On 3rd and goal – down 20-17 – wide receiver Torrey Smith was WIDE open for the game-winning touchdown.
However, this play resulted in Flacco throwing the ball out of the back of the end zone, with the Ravens settling for a field goal and eventually losing in overtime.
So why didn’t Flacco pull the trigger on Smith?
Oh yeah…back at the line of scrimmage, this was happening:
Nice snap, Gino.
Have you ever watched a football game and thought to yourself that guy just doesn’t look like an NFL player?
I had that revelation regarding Gradkowski after the Chicago game.
Maybe Gradkowski can turn his career around. But given the fact that he’s the easiest starter to replace on the Ravens, it’s not farfetched to think he may never start another game in the NFL.
There’s (a lot) of room for improvement, but right now he’s a lost cause for the Ravens.