Baltimore Ravens

Birk won't brag about his toughness, but teammates know he makes offensive line go

Matt Birk doesn't talk much about the pain in the surgically-repaired left knee that continues to trouble him. But the 14-year center's high threshold for pain isn't lost on his teammates.

"That guy is one of the toughest guys on the team, to be able to fight through that injury," right guard Marshal Yanda said. "That's nagging him every day. You'd like to say it's getting better, but one thing is, he fights through it, and his play doesn't drop off on Sundays. He's one of the guys who makes this team run."


Said left tackle Bryant McKinnie: "He doesn't really say too much. He just goes out there and does what he does. He keeps us moving and doesn't complain about anything."

Birk, 35 and a starter for the Ravens since joining the team prior to the 2009 season, hasn't missed a game since 2005 — when he was with the Minnesota Vikings — but knee issues have dogged him recently.


He underwent surgery on Aug. 3 to clean out the bursa sac his left knee. Left untreated, the knee likely would have swollen up — a problem that cropped up last year and forced Birk to have it drained at least once a week.

So far, the knee has fared well, according to Birk.

"I've felt good," he said Wednesday. "I try not to predict or really judge or look too far ahead. Every day, I'm assessed by the trainers, and I just do what they tell me to do, and I do what I can. So far, what we've been doing seems to be working. And so, we'll just keep doing it. Tomorrow might be something different, but instead of trying to think about the whole year and trying to last, I just try to take it day by day."

The medical procedure sidelined Birk for the entire preseason, which prompted the organization to sign five-time Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode on Sept. 5. The addition of Gurode was interpreted in some circles as a shot across the bow for Birk, but he repeated his approval of the roster move.

"I was ecstatic because he's a heck of a football player," Birk said. "When you add a guy like that to your line, it can do nothing but help you. The guy has played center forever, and then he comes here and he has to step in and play left guard, and he's done a great job. He's helped us win ballgames, and that's what it's all about. I know people wanted to know how I felt about it, and I'll say now what I said then: I'm too old to get into that game. I'm just here to win and try to contribute in any way that I can and in any way they want me to."

The offensive line has been a factor in the offense ranking 12th in rushing and 13th in passing in the NFL. Running back Ray Rice ranks fifth in the league in total yards from scrimmage, and quarterback Joe Flacco's sack numbers rank in the bottom half due, in part, to the line's play.

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What's remarkable is that the current offensive line configuration of Birk, guards Yanda and Gurode and tackles Michael Oher and McKinnie has only played the last three games together.

McKinnie, who joined the team on Aug. 24, said Birk has aided his transition.


"I just know how he operates," McKinnie said. "With me and him already being friends, he would communicate and translate stuff for me. When I first got here, certain plays were difficult [to envision], but he would say, 'It's just like this play that we ran in Minnesota.' That's how he would translate some stuff over."

Birk downplayed his role in the offensive line's cohesion, pointing out that Gurode has filled in admirably for injured starter Ben Grubbs (strained ligaments in right toe) and Oher has shifted to the right side after manning the left tackle spot last season.

Birk believes that kind of flexibility is something that will further the offensive line's development over the remainder of the season.

"Everyone has had to kind of step up and fill in," he said. "Some days, you don't know. Especially in the preseason, we never had our group together, and certain guys filled in. But that's life in the NFL. Sometimes guys are out of position, but I think in the end, that can only make you better as a group because it exposes guys to more situations. I think that is, as a unit, how you grow."