A Healthy Matt Birk Returns


Matt Birk is back for his 15th season.

After a few months off, the Ravens center returned to Owings Mills, Md., for the team's second OTAs. He was one of a handful of veterans who were not present at the first voluntary series of practices.

"I feel really well right now," Birk said Tuesday afternoon following practice.

"I should; it's May. If you don't feel good in May, then something's wrong. I'm excited because I do feel good and I'm excited about our team."

Birk, 35, mulled over retirement options after last season, his third straight year with the Ravens without missing a single start.

On March 16 he signed a three-year deal to return, deciding to put off spending more time with his wife and six children in Minnesota to continue to do what he loves in playing football and chasing a Super Bowl ring.

"It's never been a passion thing," Birk said of his decision to return. "I wanted to feel physically well enough to play. It's not fair to the team, it's not fair to anybody to come back if you don't physically feel you can do it or aren't mentally bought in. I think you have to physically feel good to mentally be able to do it."

Birk had to have his knee drained weekly during the 2010 season. This offseason, there were no major health fixes. Though asked if last year was easier on his body, he didn't really buy in.

He said it's simply a rough game and that part of the mental and physical challenge is "embracing the grind."

"Some days you feel good and some days you don't," Birk said. "I've come to terms with the fact that I'm not 25. It's different being an older player, but that's OK. When people call you old in this league, that's a compliment."

Head Coach John Harbaugh expressed to Birk months ago that it would be nice to have him around the facility during the voluntary sessions. Birk, who is naturally a gym rat, is respecting that request. He will be between the training facility and his home in Minnesota this offseason.

For him personally, it's a matter of knocking off the rust. He joked that he's not like the "talented" guys who can step in from Day 1 and be ready to go.

But a large part of what Birk is also doing this summer is helping some of the younger members on the offensive line gel.

The Ravens have two drafted rookies on the offensive line in Kelechi Osemele and Gino Gradkowski, as well as second-year tackle/guard Jah Reid, who is going through his first full offseason.

One will likely end up starting to Birk's left at guard, and Gradkowski is generally regarded as Birk's understudy for the future.

"It's nice just getting around the guys, getting a feel for them and developing personal relationships. I guess it's a chemistry building process," Birk said.

"They're guys who have size, strength and explosion. They've got all those things. From what I've seen, what I understand, they're hard-working, right-way guys and that's what you have to be to play offensive line in this league."

Birk said he can envision the offensive line being stronger this year, despite the loss of Pro Bowler Ben Grubbs to New Orleans. Part of that task will be up to the youngsters to learn quickly and be able to step in if somebody goes down.

"The best thing for the team is to get everybody as good as they can get," Birk said. "You never know what's going to happen and who's going to play. Whichever seven or eight guys dress on game day, let's have the best seven or eight in the whole league."

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