After last season’s miracle run to their second Lombardi Trophy in team history, the Ravens knew their team would have a different look in 2013.
While some players opted for retirement and others tested their value in free agency, the argument can be made that no player was missed more than center Matt Birk.
Birk, the Ravens’ offensive “General” opted for the later and retired, leaving the Gino Gradkowski as the 2013 starting center.
As we all know, the OL struggled to protect quarterback Joe Flacco and their run blocking was atrocious at best this season. Granted, the scheme Juan Castillo instituted didn’t fit the personnel but the players – believe it or not – do shoulder some of the blame.
Heading into the offseason, Ravens coach John Harbaugh vowed on Tuesday that no member of the Ravens offensive line was safe except Marshal Yanda.
Also on Tuesday Harbaugh announced that Gradkowski was dealing with an issue involving his knee.
“Gino has a knee issue that he’s got to get cleaned up a little bit, clean out some cartilage in there,” Harbaugh said.
Gradkowski, who played every offensive snap this season, was basically baptized by fire and thrown to the wolves in 2013 and it showed. Consistently overmatched and overpowered for most of the year, Gradkowski, whether you realize it or not did improve as the season went on and recorded one his best performances in Week 17, per Pro Football Focus.
The Ravens are faced with a tough question when it comes to Gradkowski in 2014. Will they stick with Gino or opt to bring in a free agent center, perhaps Alex Mack (Browns) or Brian De La Puente (Saints) for the former Blue Hen to compete with?
While it is likely the team sticks with Gradkowski given the nature of the Ravens salary cap and other needs on the offensive line, one thing is for certain: Flacco needs to be protected.
Looking ahead one can only hope that Kelechi Osemele can rebound from his back injury, the Ravens find a way to re-sign Eugene Monroe and through the draft or free agency find a replacement for Michael Oher.
This game that is won or lost in the trenches, and the Ravens routinely lost there during this 8-8 season. I hope Ozzie and company find a way to get it done in 2014.
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