By Aaron Wilson
The Baltimore Sun
7:25 AM EDT, September 2, 2013
Now that Gino Gradkowski has been named the Ravens' starting center as the successor to retired six-time Pro Bowl selection Matt Birk, he says the work is just beginning.
The Ravens open the NFL season Thursday hight against the Denver Broncos.
"It's exciting, but we've got a big challenge ahead of us this week," Gradkowski said. "I still have a lot to prove. I've got to earn the respect of my teammates, I think I've done that so far this camp."
Gradkowski beat out former Indianapolis Colts starter A.Q. Shipley to win the job. Gradkowski started two of the first three preseason games.
"A.Q. had a heck of a camp and is a good player," Gradkowski said. "He's definitely a good addition for our team. He made me better. He was pushing me."
Shipley is accustomed to competition and starting his time with a team coming off the sidelines. The former Penn State lineman says he'll stay ready.
"I'm used to this because this is the situation I was in last year," said Shipley, who started against the Atlanta Falcons in the second preseason game and was penalized twice. "I came in off the bench before. I'm used to that role. It's nothing new for me. I'll prepare every day like I'm the starter. I'll stay ready. Every day, I'm practicing against Haloti Ngata and these guys so there's nothing you can do but get better."
A former New England Patriots and New York Jets starter, James Ihedigbo entered training camp as the starting strong safety and remains atop the depth chart heading into the regular season.
"It's good that the coaching staff has that confidence in me as a player and my teammates have that confidence in me," Ihedigbo said. "I'm moving forward and being that guy and playing to the level that I'm capable of playing at and showcasing it."
Ihedigbo figures to be sharing playing time with rookie Matt Elam, the Ravens' hard-hitting first-round draft pick from Florida.
"The things we do on this defense, we have versatility across the board," Ihedigbo said. "We ask guys to do a lot of things. Matt is going to be playing a lot of football."
Elam was a consensus All-American with the Gators. He was selected 32nd overall by the Ravens.
Coming off a positive preseason where he established himself as a tackler at the NFL level, Elam said he doesn't have a problem not starting right away.
"Whatever it takes, whatever my role is, I'm going to expand my role and prepare just like I'm the starter," Elam said. "I've got a great relationship with James. I've learned a lot from, I continue to learn from him. You got do whatever you can to help the team."