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Jeff Saturday weighs in on Ravens' center competition

For 14 NFL seasons, Jeff Saturday was a mainstay at center with his undersized, stocky presence. His intelligence, technique and quickness were the hallmarks of his play.

Saturday established himself as a leader of the Indianapolis Colts' offensive line, snapping to star quarterback Peyton Manning for the bulk of his career. Saturday retired this offseason after spending the final season of his career last year with the Green Bay Packers and being named to his sixth Pro Bowl.

Now working as an NFL analyst for ESPN, Saturday weighed in on the Ravens' center competition being waged between Gino Gradkowski and A.Q. Shipley.

Gradkowski spent his rookie season behind six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk after being drafted in the fourth round out of Delaware. With Birk retired, Gradkowski is regarded as the frontrunner to win the starting job.

"I like the kid out of Delaware, Gradkowski," Saturday said in a telephone interview. "I liked him a lot coming out of there. I know that Birk has spoken very highly of him, respects the way he takes care of business. He's capable and ready to get that job.

"Coming from a guy like Birk to think that highly of you, that's very impressive. He would know what Gino can do. Talking to people around the NFL, I've heard nothing but good things about him."

Saturday is extremely familiar with Shipley, a former Pittsburgh Steelers seventh-round draft pick acquired by the Ravens from the Colts in May for a conditional 2014 draft pick.

Shipley plays the game with a nasty streak and is built low to the ground at 6 feet 1, 309 pounds. He started five games last season for the Colts.

"A.Q. is tough as nails," said Saturday, who was signed by the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 1998 out of North Carolina only to be cut before training camp. "A.Q. battles and lays his heart out there on the field. One thing that impressed me with the Colts is how many reps he took at center and he was a seamless fit in there. He made their offensive line better.

"He was stable and moved guys and played with that ferocity at center. He's a tough, gritty type of player. I liked watching him and I was surprised he wound up leaving Indy."

Shipley scored a 40 on the Wonderlic test at the 2009 NFL scouting combine where he also bench pressed 225 pounds 33 times and had a 31-inch vertical leap.

"A.Q. has got that mentality that he's going to do whatever he's got to do to block somebody," Saturday said. "He gets inside on the chest plate and locks people down. The thing is he's consistent. He's not the biggest guy in the building, but he's got natural leverage from his height and weight and he's not going to be run over. He's got that squatty body."

awilson@baltsun.com

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