Rookie offensive linemen transitioning smoothly

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OWINGS MILLS — Kelechi Osemele fired off the line of scrimmage, engulfing a much smaller defensive lineman with a powerful hand punch.

Gino Gradkowski snapped the football without incident to quarterback John Brantley before adeptly getting upfield to wall off a linebacker.

During a rookie minicamp that concluded Sunday, it appeared to be a smooth initiation to the NFL for both of the Baltimore Ravens’ rookie offensive linemen.

Internally, though, it was hardly simple as both draft picks’ heads were swimming as they attempted to cram a lot of knowledge into three days of practices.

“I’ve been struggling a little bit, but now I have it,” said Osemele, a 6-foot-5, 333-pound second-round draft pick from Iowa State. “It took me until the third day to have the hang of it. They’re pretty complex and pretty tough. There’s a million ways to say the same thing.

“I have it in my brain. I know what I’m doing, but it’s a little bit different when guys are moving and shifting. Physically, I’m good. That’s not the problem at all. It’s not a physical thing. Especially when I get tired, I just have to lock it in.”

For Gradkowski, a 6-2, 302-pound fourth-round draft pick, it’s a major leap in competition from Delaware.

It’s also a matter of absorbing a more intricate playbook than what the Blue Hens ran in the Colonial Athletic Association.

“Exactly, there’s a lot to learn,” said Gradkowski, the younger brother of NFL quarterback Bruce Gradkowski. “The playbook is more complex than in college. It will take time and study and a lot of work. I got to keep working and get better.”

Gradkowski has the additional responsibility of making the line calls, adjusting to blitzes and stunts on the fly.

“I’m getting there obviously,” Gradkowski. “I’ve got a lot more work to do. I’m starting to feel comfortable.”

When in doubt, Osemele would just use his brawn to shove defensive linemen out of the way as he ran interference for rookie running back Bernard Pierce.

“He has done a really good job,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s really athletic for a big man. He can explode and uncoil. He has a lot to learn, though, just like they all do, but I am very optimistic and excited about him.”

Pierce noticed right away that Osemele and Gradkowski are more than just big bodies grappling with defenders.

They’re also athletic.

“They’re good, they’re fast surprisingly,” Pierce said. “I watched them pull for me in practice, and they actually got out in front of me a little bit. That’s always a plus, always a plus.”

The imposing former All-Big 12 Conference blocker mostly lined up at left guard after primarily playing left tackle for the Cyclones.

Osemele is slated to compete with Jah Reid for the starting job at left guard that became vacant when Ben Grubbs with the New Orleans Saints.

“I played very little left tackle, just to fill in when guys were getting worn down,” Osemele said. “Pretty much guard is where I’ll be playing.” There’s a lot more detail at guard. It’s more of a chess game, so it’s pretty fun.”

Gradkowski has yet to talk with six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk, whom he’s projected to eventually replace.

For now, he’s getting a lot of advice from his older brother in addition to offensive line coach Andy Moeller and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

“We’re always pushing each other, we’re very competitive,” said Gradkowski, who was an All-American last year and has run the 40-yard dash in 5.2 seconds and bench pressed 225-pounds 30 times. “He’s talking to me every day, making sure I’m taking it one step at a time. Now that minicamp is over, I’ve got to take the next step.

“It’s hard to tell how tough the jump is right now because it’s just rookies. I’m sure once the veterans get here, it’s going to be a lot bigger jump. The tempo was a lot faster.”

That was the biggest change Osemele noticed from the collegiate level.

Playing for the Ravens is going to require him marshaling his efforts to an entirely higher standard to make the adjustment to the speed of the game.

“You can’t even compare the two, it’s different,” Osemele said. “This is probably the first time where you hear the speed or the level of game is different, this is the first time where it’s actually different, where I actually have to try.”

NOTE: The Ravens agreed to terms with undrafted rookie tight end Matt Balasave following a successful tryout at their rookie minicamp.

 

This entry was posted in The Beat with Aaron Wilson by Aaron Wilson. Bookmark the permalink.

About Aaron Wilson

Aaron Wilson
Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post as well as the Baltimore Ravens for The Carroll County Times and Ravens24x7.com. He has previously covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans and has covered the NFL since 1997.  He has won several regional writing awards, including, most recently, Best...more

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