Just a year ago, the Ravens held high hopes that Gino Gradkowski could not only do an effective job in his first year as a starter after the great Matt Birk retired, but also be the Ravens long-term answer at the Center position.
But after a rough 2013 season in which Gradkowski struggled and ended the year as Pro Football Focus’ worst-rated Center in the NFL with a -18.1 rating, the Ravens had no other choice but to upgrade and did so by acquiring Jeremy Zuttah from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a 2015 5th round pick.
They then locked up the former Buc with a 5 Year-$18 M dollar deal.
Zuttah, 27, started in 76 games with the Bucs from 2008 to 2013 while demonstrating versatility, starting 5 games at Right guard, 41 at Left Guard and 30 at Center.
And this begs the question…
Given the current composition of the roster, where does Gino Gradkowski fit in?
With Zuttah undoubtedly holding down the #1 Center job, it will most likely come down to Gradkowski and 2013 6th round pick Ryan Jensen for the back-up spot.
You have to think due to Gradkowski’s struggles in 2013, even this competition is wide open heading into camp. Gradkowski, 25, will have his hands full dealing with Jensen, who missed all of his 2013 rookie season after fracturing his foot in the early stages of training camp.
The Ravens are high on Jensen due to his tremendous IQ and athleticism to go with a high motor and a mean streak in the trenches. Jensen, 23, is also versatile and will most likely see reps at Center and Guard in camp.
Regardless of what position he backs up, Jensen seems to be a lock for the final 53. He’s a kid with a lot of potential and if he can continue to develop, the Colorado State-Pueblo product could land a starting role in the near future.
If Jensen wins the race for 2nd string Center, Gradkowski will most likely have to prove his worth by showing enough versatility to be able to switch to Guard and contributing to special teams.
Which then begs yet another question…
If you agree that the versatile Jensen is a lock and the Ravens 2014 5th round pick John Urschel is also an odds on favorite to make the final 53, barring injuries can the former Blue Hen stick at Guard?
Gino could also face competition at Guard from versatile UDFA’s Parker Graham and Brett Van Sloten if James Hurst locks up the #3 OT spot and possibly the newly-signed Will Rackley.
Rackley posted ugly Pro Football Focus ratings in 2011 (-35.7) and 2013 (-32.7) as a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars and as a result he will have to absolutely kill it in camp to even have a shot at the final 53.
But all competition is good competition.
The battle will undoubtedly be fierce for the 9 roster spots across the offensive front. For the moment the 8 leading candidates are: Eugene Monroe, Kelechi Osemele, Zuttah, Marshal Yanda, Ricky Wagner, Urschel, Jensen and Hurst.
The combatants for that ninth spot are: Rackley, A.Q. Shipley, Jah Reid and of course Gradkowski.
Who will be the last man standing?
Only time will tell, but Gradkowski will certainly have to be on top of his game this summer to ensure his place on the final 53 and his future in Baltimore.