Due to the team's desire to take it easy with veteran center Matt Birk, he has not practiced this week and will not play in tonights pre-season opener for the Baltimore Ravens at the Atlanta Falcons. Expected to start in his place is rookie center Gino Gradkowski (Delaware), the team's fourth round draft pick. Gradkowski has received the majority of the reps with the first-team offense and after Tuesday's practice, gave me a few minutes for this exclusive interview on the indoor practice field at the Ravens Under Armour Performance Center.
Baltimore Beatdown (BB): So where were you when the call came from the Ravens on draft day and what were you doing?
Gino Gradkowski (Gino): "I was with my family in Pittsburgh. I was down in the basement with all my cousins, my brother, my mom and dad. So, it was awesome, it was an awesome feeling and this was one of the organizations that I really wanted to play for. A great organization; I had a visit here in April, I was very happy that I got the call from Mr. Newsome."
BB: So your were watching the draft, and the phone rings and everybody gets quiet and you get a big grin on your face, and as soon as you get off the phone you say, "Baltimore?"
Gino: "It's funny because me and my cousin just got done playing NHL on Playstation, and my dad was like, "What are you doing, the draft's starting?" I said, "we're just finishing up this game," and as soon as we turned on the TV my phone rang. I think it rang a couple times before someone answered it. It didn't even get quiet, no one really thought about it. My mom answered it and she started running at me with the phone and I thought she was going to knock me over. It was a great feeling and my agent had texted my dad and told him that this was it and the Ravens were gonna pick me, so they all knew before I even got off the phone."
BB: So you come here and obviously there's a double-digit veteran in Matt Birk ahead of you who's seen and done it all and now towards the end of a great career. What's it like to be able to learn, not just practicing on the field but just standing with the guy and talking?
Gino: "It's awesome, it's a tremendous opportunity and that's one of the reasons that I wanted to come here, because Matt's one of the best centers in the league and he's just very intelligent, he knows what he's doing and he's a great professional too. He's a great guy, he's made it clear that his door is always open to me. So that's a great feeling to know that I can go to him with any question and he's more than willing to help."
BB: In the 11-on-11 drills, who's the toughest guy you've faced so far in Camp?
Gino: "Well, I got a little taste of Haloti today. He's a beast. He is a beast. So you know, I have my hands full with all those guys. Terrence Cody, Haloti, 'Kemo' (Ma'ake Kemoeatu), we have great personnel on defense. We have the best defense in the league and that's definitely going to make me a better player and it's awesome to go against them every day."
BB: That was my next question, because you practice against them and sometimes you come up against other teams and in some ways, you might have an easier going based on who you're paying every day at practice.
Gino: "Yeah, that's awesome that way. This way I'm getting all my good work in practice and you know you're going to face great guys in the league but your not gonna face many guys that are better than the guys we have on defense."
BB: How proud will it be for you, not just as an individual but representing your school to know that here's a guy from Delaware hiking the ball to a guy from Delaware. With all these huge school from around this country, here's a pair of guys from a so-called small school starting in the NFL?
Gino: "Yeah, it's really cool, it's a great opportunity to get Delaware's name out there and I'm sure it will be great for some publicity, but I don't think about it too much. It's definitely good for the school and it's definitely a cool story."