Matt Lund and Judd Bleser contributed to this article.
In this article, we’ll break down the training camp battles on both the offensive line (center) and who will start opposite Lardarius Webb at cornerback in Week One.
Judd Bleser: To be honest, I think Gino Gradkowski has a sizeable advantage to start at center. He has experience in the Ravens system, and although he lacks ideal size, he is agile and can hold his own down there. However, for argument’s sake, I’m going to play devil’s advocate and take A.Q. Shipley, the offseason trade acquisition from the Colts.
The advantage that Shipley has over Gradkowski is simple but huge: actual playing time. He has starting experience for the Colts—granted it was only five games after the starting center went down with an injury—and he played fairly well.
Overall, I look forward to seeing these two big guys battle for the spot; the competition will make them both play their best.
Matt Lund: The heir apparent to the starting spot after Matt Birk retired, Gino Gradkowski seems to be the next starter in line unless he flat out underperforms during camp and in pre-season games. He learned quite a bit backing up Birk at center last season being drafted out of the University of Delaware in the 4th round.
Gino has good football smarts; he comes from a football family after all (Bruce Gradkowski is his older brother), he wants to outwork you and won’t stop until he does.
The Ravens brought in A.Q. Shipley, via a trade from the Indianapolis Colts to give Gino some competition. Shipley has experience, but Gradkowski has knowledge of the offense, and all reports thus far have Joe Flacco feeling quite comfy with Gino at center.
At 6’3″ 300 pounds, could be considered slightly undersized for the position, but that’s really just splitting hairs. Matt Birk was 6’4″ and 300 pounds. What he brings to the table is solid agility. He moves well on rollouts and is effective in his side to side movements, which is a must with the blocking schemes the Ravens use.
Gradkowski fits right in with the type of offensive line Andy Moeller wants: strong, highly competitive, can move well in space to block and one hell of a nasty streak.
JB: Now that Lardarius Webb is healthy and ready to take the first corner spot back, the remaining corners can each take a step down on the depth chart, which will improve the defensive backfield as a whole. There are three solid options to start at second corner: Corey Graham, Jimmy Smith, and Chykie Brown.
All three made huge contributions last year, and made plays in big moments on the road to the Super Bowl. Corey Graham seems to be the easy pick here, but I’m going to go with Jimmy Smith.
I think Corey Graham is the better corner right now, but he’s better in the slot than he is out wide. Since the second corner spot is technically one of the two that is flanked out wide, I’d rather have the taller and rangier guy.
Yes, I understand that Jimmy Smith has been more potential than production at this point, but this season is do-or-die for him. Entering his third season, there are no more excuses.
You know what they say: no pressure, no diamonds. Here’s to hoping Jimmy Smith turns into that diamond, finally.
ML: Jimmy Smith really came on and played better after he returned from his sports hernia surgery last December and is trying to live up to the potential of being a first round selection. Corey Graham was signed by Baltimore with the chance to get legitimate play time, but looked at as depth and used more so on special teams.
With the injuries to Webb and Smith, Graham stepped up and did an admirable job, starting eight games with two interceptions, a forced fumble and 36 tackles. Because of that, I think Graham will keep hold of his starting job and use Jimmy Smith in the nickel. Smith can continue to build upon his promise he built up in the last month of the season, into the playoffs.
I realize with Graham’s size, he’s better suited for the nickel, defending slot receivers and giving Smith the job opposite of Webb with size and ability to cover a receiver. Graham, however can handle his own, and John Harbaugh likes to keep his guys in a position to succeed after what Graham accomplished.
I don’t think Jimmy Smith is there yet for Harbaugh to hand the job to him. A very strong training camp can change those prospects though.