Ravens center Jeff Mitchell admits he came into the league woefully behind in his run-blocking ability.
Thank Steve Spurrier and the Florida "Fun 'n Gun Offense" -- in which Mitchell started at guard and center for three years -- for that.
Mitchell has improved over the past two seasons in run blocking with the Ravens and will face one of his biggest challenges on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills' Ted Washington, possibly the league's premier run stopper. Last season, a matchup like this would have been a problem.
"All we did there [at Florida] was pass block," Mitchell said. "When I came into the league I didn't know how to run block. I'm starting to get better at that. I could draw block and pass block. That is about it.
"There are a lot of aspects I've improved. The biggest thing was in my steps and explosiveness and techniques. It's been slow going, week to week."
Mitchell said he was ahead in his pass blocking when he entered the league. But that's something he won't have to worry about against the Bills' 6-foot-4, 330-pound lineman. Washington, who lost 30 pounds in the off-season, is known for clogging up holes for running backs, not pressuring quarterbacks.
"I would rather have a guy like Ted than a guy who is quick and makes me look stupid any day," Mitchell said. "You don't try and move him. I try and get him moving the way I move. When I put my head on one side, he has got to move. That's the way you move him. Not with force but I guess you can say with agility and speed."
Washington, a two-time Pro Bowl pick, is the nose tackle in the Bills' 3-4 defensive scheme. He has started 58 straight games and registered 13 tackles two weeks ago in a loss to the Oakland Raiders.
Washington is not a particularly fast or skillful defensive tackle. As Ravens coach Brian Billick puts it, he just "gobbles up space."
Said Billick: "You look at the film and I can't remember a bigger man that I've ever seen. He's just huge, and he does exactly what they want him to do. He's the perfect prototype. You say you want them to take up two gaps, but he's three gaps, four gaps."
The only problem with Washington was that he got too big. It was estimated that he weighed around 360 pounds last season, bringing criticism from fans.
He lost weight but still outweighs Mitchell by 30 pounds. Mitchell won't be alone in his attempt to contain Washington, getting help from guards Everett Lindsay and Jeff Blackshear.
But on most plays, Washington will line up over Mitchell, who also will have to deal with getting the snap to the Ravens' third starting quarterback this season, Tony Banks.
"By Sunday, me and Tony will be fine," Mitchell said. "As far as the snap goes, when a defensive tackle affects your snap is when he is really quick. And Washington is so big that he isn't that quick."
Billick has praised Mitchell this year for his play, as has offensive line coach Jim Colletto. Mitchell and Blackshear are the only two linemen on the original depth chart who have not missed time due to injury.
Mitchell spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve after tearing up his knee in training camp. He came back last season to start the first seven games before losing his job to Wally Williams. When Williams went down with a neck injury, Mitchell started the last three games.
He came into this preseason as the starter, fighting off a push from Lindsay, who eventually started for the injured James Atkins at guard.
"Jeff has really done a good job this year considering it was all new to him," Colletto said. "He's picked it up real well. He's got a real future. He's going to get better as he keeps playing.
"He's a pretty physical guy. It was just a matter of him getting used to doing more run blocking at center. He's a tough guy."
Running back Errict Rhett, who played one year with Mitchell at Florida, says he feels good about the matchup between Mitchell and Washington. Rhett knows that if he has any chance of running through the middle of the Bills' defense, Mitchell will be one of the main players responsible.
"Jeff better go home and eat a lot of hamburgers," Rhett said. "He will step up to the plate. He's not that big, but he's smart. We know each other. We stayed three doors from each other in the dorm. That's the best feeling in the world when you've been with this guy for eight, nine years."
Asked whether his college days left him unprepared for the NFL, Mitchell says they did not, and if anything, they helped him perfect how to protect the quarterback.
"I enjoyed pass blocking," Mitchell said. "We did some good things back then. But I've found out how fun it is to get the defense worn down and start beating on them a little bit."
Next for Ravens
OpponentL Buffalo Bills
Sire: PSINet Stadium
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300) AM, WLIF (101.9 FM)
Tickets: Sold Out
Line: Bills by 3 1/2