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Ravens center Gino Gradkowski determined to improve

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The Ravens knew that Gino Gradkowski would experience some growing pains as the replacement for six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk after his retirement.

And Gradkowski is still learning on the job four games into his second NFL season.

Gradkowski allowed a sack and four quarterback hurries during a 23-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday in which the Ravens rushed for only 24 yards on nine carries and quarterback Joe Flacco was sacked four times. 

"Obviously, I feel like there are a lot of things I could have done better on Sunday," Gradkowski said. "I'm sure a few other guys feel that way, too. We'll just keep working hard at it and things will start going our way."

Gradkowski has the lowest overall grade of the Ravens starting offensive linemen with two sacks, two quarterback hits and 11 quarterback hurries allowed, according to Pro Football Focus.

"As far as Gino and how he fits into that, just what you'd expect from a young center," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He's done a good job physically. It hasn't been too often where Gino has been pushed around. He's done a good job of getting on his targets. He's done a good job of holding the point in there. That can always be better. Some of his footwork things, I talk to him all the time. He can just come off the ball better.

"Sometimes, he's a little tentative with his footwork and he wants to stay in front of people. Go ahead and come off the ball and move people a little bit. He's capable of doing that. It's the difference between Gino and Matt with the calls. And we're feeling that in there right now. Gino is a really smart guy, but Matt had been at it for a lot of years. So, that's something we're working through."

At 6 feet 3, 300 pounds, Gradkowski is quick, athletic and strong. The former Delaware standout is slightly undersized for an NFL center, though.

"I'm still learning, stil trying to get better at the communication part, at recognizing things a little bit faster," Gradkowski said. "So, it's a proicess and I'm going to keep working hard at it. We're going to get it fixed."

Birk's institutional knowledge gained over 15 NFL seasons before retiring in February can't be easily replaced.

"I've been telling everybody the whole time that the guy the Ravens will miss the most is Matt Birk," said former Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman Jamie Dukes, an NFL Network analyst, in a telephone interview. "Joe Flacco dearly misses Matt because of the subtleties of the game. Matt could tell Joe, 'You need to get out of this, this isn't a good play.' It's a totally different dynamic now. Joe's presnap time is cut in half because he's got to analyze the front more now.

"You miss Matt as a blocker, but it also added a layer of adjustments for Joe in terms of surveying the line of scrimmage before the snap to make sure it's covered properly. It's tough for a young center to break in and get adjusted. That's what the Ravens are trying to do right now and that's a process."

The job gets no easier Sunday when the Ravens play the Miami Dolphins. Gradkowski will face Dolphins standout defensive tackle Paul Soliai, a 6-foot-4, 355-pounder.

"They're a good front and he's a good player," Gradkowski said. "He's been giving guys some trouble this year. We'll be studying him hard on film."

awilson@baltsun.com

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