Matt Birk has been in the NFL for a long time. Fifteen years to be precise. The Minnesota Vikings originally drafted Birk in the 1998 NFL Draft. He signed with the Baltimore Ravens in 2009 and, when healthy, has been a fixture at center on their offensive line.
On the road to his fifteenth season in the NFL, Birk gained some wear and tear. The 36-year-old center has had several injuries and surgeries in his time with Baltimore. Over the summer, he contemplated retirement while undergoing surgery to repair varicose veins in his legs.
Ravens’ head coach John Harbaugh lets Birk have rest days during camp. He did not practice on Monday and Tuesday.
“Matt’s at a stage in his career where he’s going to practice less than he’s not going to practice,” Harbaugh said of Birk. “And I think that would be the best thing for Matt getting ready to go.”
In April’s Draft, the Ravens drafted Gino Gradkowski out of Delaware in the 4th Round to eventually replace Birk at center. Gradkowski originally played at WVU but transferred to Delaware so he could start.
With Birk on the Ravens’ sidelines this week and over the summer, Gradkowski has had the opportunity to get reps in Birk’s place. He impressed his teammates and his new coach.
“He’s learning technique,” Harbaugh said of Gradkowski. “He’s a young guy physically. He’s very smart, he’s very tough and he’s very competitive and kind of just a tough guy. So we like his style.”
With Birk getting up in age, and with an injury plagued run with the Ravens, Gradkowski could have to step up into a larger role on the Ravens’ offensive line this season.