Repetitions are the best way to gain experience in the NFL, but after his first season as a starter, Ravens center Gino Gradkowski was a disappointment.
It's unfair to solely blame Gradkowski for the season-long train wreck that was the Ravens offensive line, but some stock has to be put into the fact that he was the only initial change to an offensive line that derailed in many facets from their Super Bowl victory the previous season.
In hindsight, it sounds weird, but the Ravens actually missed Matt Birk more than Ed Reed or Ray Lewis.
Aside from a few extenuating circumstances, each season the starting job is up for grabs. Judging from his first season as a starter, Gradkowski left little to be desired for the coaches to make him the 2014 starter, especially because there may already be a better option on the roster in A.Q. Shipley.
Hear me out.
Was Gradkowski any better than Shipley during training camp?
Shipley was traded from Indianapolis to Baltimore for a conditional seventh-round pick. At the time, the transaction appeared to simply be for depth and to keep Gradkowski focused especially because this was his job to lose. Unless Shipley had blatantly outplayed Gradkowski, it's doubtful the Ravens front office would admit they made a mistake through moves on the depth chart with an undersized player from a FCS college (University of Delaware).
Gradkowski's struggles could have forced the hand of the coaches to give Shipley an opportunity, had it not been for a nagging back injury that would claim left guard Kelechi Osemele for the second-half of the season. Shipley beat out Jah Reid, who is six-inches taller and outweighs him by 40 pounds. Shipley's elevation over Reid virtually super-glued the "bust" label to the 2011 third-round pick.
Perhaps it was Reid's struggles that paved the way for Shipley to start because at 6-foot-1 and 309 pounds, he'd often be overmatched, but found a way to hold his own. Shipley outplayed Gradkowski and was at a disadvantage because he was in a position he's not really cut out to play. All things considered, Shipley's performance compared to Gradkowski at least throws his name in the hat to win the starting job at a position he's familiar with playing.
Based on offseason spending, the Ravens may have no other options
Unfortunately, football is a business and a lot of accounting must be done before then. Given their other areas of need, the Ravens simply may not have enough money to upgrade the center position.
The largest investments to the offensive line are figured to be at tackle as both starting tackles from last season (Michael Oher and Eugene Monroe) are unrestricted free agents. After trying to retain some other free agents of their own like tight end Dennis Pitta and defensive end Arthur Jones, there simply may not be enough money to upgrade center, which would have to be considered one of the least important positions of need on the totem pole.
Shipley over Gradkowski?
Judging by their play during the second-half of last season, I'd have to figure that Shipley outplayed Gradkowski and at this point should be a favorite to start. Last season, the Ravens drafted center Ryan Jensen in the sixth-round out of Colorado State-Pueblo, but at this time, doesn't look to be a legitimate contributor.
With Gradkowski now heading into his third-season, enough time has passed for the front office to make their evaluation. If Gradkowski isn't the man for the job, the team can move on accordingly without fear of embarrassment for reaching on a player and them simply not working out.
It's the offseason, let the speculation begin!