The Ravens got a fresh look at the competition for starting center in Thursday's preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons.
It was veteran A.Q. Shipley's turn to start* *after second-year center Gino Gradkowski earned the starting nod in last week's opener against the Buccaneers. It was an up-and-down outing for Shipley, who played the entire first half but was also flagged for 20 penalty yards.
"Other than the two penalties I had, I think I had all my assignments right," Shipley said. "I made all the right calls. Other than that I thought it was a solid day's work."
The game could not have started much worse for Shipley.
On his very first play from scrimmage, Shipley was flagged for a 15-yard penalty for illegal hands to the face. The NFL has told officials to watch for more hands to the face penalties this year, and the flag put the Ravens in a 1st first-and-25 hole that ultimately led to a three-and-out on the opening series.
"The first one, I thought I had a pretty solid block, but I guess my hand got up in his facemask and they're making an emphasis on that," Shipley said.
Shipley was then hit with a false start penalty in the second quarter when the Ravens were backed up inside their own five 5-yard line.
"That's just a bonehead [mistake] on my part, but that happens and you just have to move on," Shipley said.
With Shipley as the starter, the Ravens offense had a tough night overall. The first-team unit struggled to move the football through the air or on the ground, and they picked up just three first downs in the first half.
"We just couldn't get into a rhythm," Shipley said. "Obviously we have to play better. We have to play a lot better. And we will. We definitely will."
Overall, Shipley played 21 snaps on the night and received a harsh grade from statistical analysis website Pro Football Focus (PFF). Shipley had a -3.4 grade, which was the lowest on the team. In addition to the penalties, the website also graded Shipley poorly for his run blocking.
The running game struggled with the starters in the game, as running back back Ray Rice totaled just 10 yards on eight carries.
"We didn't run block real well, so we couldn't get the run game going," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.
In the second half, the Ravens gave Gradkowski a chance with the rest of the first-team line. He didn't get called for any penalties, and was overall pleased with his performance. He graded out much better according to Pro Football Focus, earning a 1.7 during his 28 plays, the highest grade of any player on the team.
"It's tough only playing a quarter, a quarter and a little bit," Gradkowski said. "But that's just how the preseason goes. It's hard to get into a rhythm. But at the same time I felt pretty good out there. We'll see the film and see what I need to correct."
Harbaugh held off on giving an assessment based on his view from the sidelines.
"I just have to watch the tape," Harbaugh said. "It's kind of hard to see that from where I am."
Shipley and Gradkowski are in the middle of a tight battle for the starting job that opened up when veteran Matt Birk retired this offseason. They have rotated reps throughout the offseason, and after the first half of the preseason, Gradkowksi may have gotten an edge if the coaches agree with PFF's grade.
"You just got to be ready whenever you get in there," Gradkowski said. "In camp there are a lot of guys getting a lot of reps, so you just have to take advantage of the reps that you get. This is a nice competition and it's making both of us better."