When the Baltimore Ravens traded a fifth round draft pick in 2015 to acquire center Jeremy Zuttah from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the writing was on the wall for Gino Gradkowski in 2014.
It was clear that the team wasn’t impressed with Gradkowski’s play last season – and rightfully so – but just how much of an upgrade is Zuttah over Gradkowski and why exactly did they opt for Zuttah over a number of available free agent centers?
As the Ravens hosted their second round of OTA’s open to the media on Wednesday, here are some observations from practice on both Zuttah and Gradkowski:
Zuttah has run with the first string offense since the beginning of organized team activities while Gradkowski has been taking reps with the second team offense.
Zuttah, who’s listed on the Ravens’ official roster as being 6’4” and weighing 308 pounds looks much smaller. While in great shape, Zuttah the seven-year veteran looks trim; however, what he lacks in bulk he certainly makes up for with athleticism.
Gradkowski by all appearances has bulked up this offseason and looks stronger. After being pushed around last season, it was apparent that he changed his workout regimen to help offset areas of weakness.
“He didn’t play great last year but he still started 16 games,” Ravens Assistant GM Eric DeCosta said about Gino last month. “He’s going to build on that experience. I think a really good offseason is going to help him tremendously this year. He’s going to get bigger and stronger now that he knows what it entails and what he has to do.”
While Gradkowski was rated as the league’s worst center in 2013 per Pro Football Focus, Zuttah ranked as the leagues 22nd best center.
Gradkowski’s inexperience with the zone blocking offense looks as if it will certainly reduce his role this summer. While his footwork looked heavy at times on Wednesday, it has improved since the Ravens held their first OTA last week – clearly a sign he is working hard to understand the new offensive system.
Obviously the better option at the center position for the Ravens is Zuttah. His footwork looks solid and he is quick off the snap. His aggressiveness in pass blocking and run blocking (in shorts) stood out noticeably. He’s quick to the second level and he has long arms and that provide leverage and improved angles.
Zuttah’s experience in a zone blocking system provides a level of comfort.
Judging from the body language of the coaching staff, so far so good.
An area of extreme weakness in 2013 looks to be on the mend.
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