In his own words, Matt Birk "can only imagine" what Andre Gurode must be going through.
Gurode, a five-time Pro Bowler at center between 2006 and 2010 when he was a member of the Dallas Cowboys, is preparing to possibly start at right guard for the injured Marshal Yanda when the Ravens visit the Cincinnati Bengals in the teams' regular-season finale on Sunday.
Birk, the starting center since joining the team prior to the 2009 campaign, smiled when asked about the difficulty in Gurode's assignment.
"I can only imagine because, luckily, I've only been a center for a long time, and I haven't had to move," Birk said. "It doesn't seem like much, probably, to anyone on the outside, but the mechanics of everything, just starting with the stance, it's so different from snapping the ball. You're more off the ball at guard, different type of techniques, different type of players in terms of three-techniques [defensive tackles who line up on the outside shoulders of guards] versus nose guards. So from the outside, it looks like a bunch of little things, but it's actually a lot of big things, and certainly it's an adjustment."
But to hear Gurode talk about it, the transition is not something he can afford to fret or stew over.
"It is different to play one position for so long and then go back to the guard position," he said nonchalantly. "So it's a little different, but we're winning, we're having fun, and it's a great team to be on."
Gurode's status for Sunday will rely heavily on the progress of Yanda's recovery from the bruised ribs and thigh he sustained in the Ravens' 20-14 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Saturday.
After that game against the Browns, Yanda had maintained hope that he would be able to suit up against the Bengals, but he also conceded that the bruised ribs were painful and making it difficult for him to breathe.
Yanda did not practice Wednesday, but Gurode cautioned against making any assumptions about Yanda's status.
"It would shock me [if Yanda didn't play] because he's a tough guy, and he'll play through anything," Gurode said. "But I know at the same time, if he's ready and able to play, then he'll play. But if he can't, then I'll play."
Yanda's absence would pave the way for Gurode to start at right guard, which would not be a completely alien experience for the 10-year veteran. Gurode made five starts at left guard earlier in the season while Ben Grubbs was rehabilitating strained ligaments in the big toe on his right foot.
"We're just happy we have him," coach John Harbaugh said. "He's done a really good job. He's a veteran, and we're sure glad he's here, and he's done well."
Gurode, who also replaced Birk at center for one series while the medical staff monitored a shoulder injury Birk suffered in the Dec. 4 victory over Cleveland, said he never envisioned playing a position other than center.
"Never imagined it, but like I said, when the team called on me to play, I never would have imagined that I would first play left guard, then play center for a game, then go back to right guard," Gurode said.
Gurode said he actually played center and guard during his collegiate days at the University of Colorado, lining up at center for his first 2½ years before finishing his career there at right guard.
"The mental reps are there, but the physical reps, it's about getting comfortable at the position and going in to play," he said. "… Just getting used to the play calling, your dominant hand being down, switching your stance. But it's something you've got to get used to."
Gurode, a free agent who was signed by the Ravens on Sept. 5, is under contract for only one season. Gurode declined to speculate on his future, but agreed that playing both center and guard could increase his appeal to possible employers.
"Being able to play more than one position helps you out a lot," he said. "But honestly, I really don't know. But if it were to happen, it would just happen that way."
Much like his assignment for Grubbs, Gurode will have some sizable shoes to fill if Yanda can't go. Yanda, who is regarded as one of the toughest offensive linemen in the NFL, was voted to his first Pro Bowl Tuesday.
But Birk predicted that there would be little difficulty in integrating Gurode to the offensive game plan.
"He knows the offense," Birk said. "Being a center, you have to know everything. He's played a lot of football, so he understands what he has to do. Even though he hasn't played a lot of guard, he's sat in countless meetings and listened to the guards being coached and critiqued. So I think he'll be fine."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun