Matt Birk spent a year mentoring Gino Gradkowski. Then he spent a year watching him.
After Gradkowski's up-and-down 2013 season replacing Birk as the Ravens' starting center, the elder statesman is as convinced as ever that Gradkowski is still the long-term solution despite media and fan chatter that the Ravens need a change.
"He is the guy, no question," said Birk, who was back in Baltimore Thursday to promote his new book, "All-Pro Wisdom: The 7 Choices That Lead to Greatness."
"It's a process. It's a journey. I think the best thing Gino has going for him is his attitude and his character. That comes through when you're playing football. As a Ravens fan myself, I don't worry about Gino."
According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Gradkowski started the year with five straight negative performances. His play leveled out after that. He had five games with either neutral or positive grades. On the year, Gradkowski received a -5.9 grade for his run blocking and -14.2 in pass blocking from PFF.
It wasn't Gradkowski's size that gave him the most trouble. He held up well physically for the most part, he said after the year.
It was the mental part of the game that took adjusting. It was a matter of reading defenses, including complex blitzes, and making calls at the line to get the unit on the same page.
"It's challenging," Birk said. "Until you do it, you don't really know what you don't know. That's why experience is so valuable. Failure is the great teacher."
Birk said Gradkowski will have an opportunity this offseason to slow down and evaluate himself with a different perspective – introspection that the hustle and bustle of the season doesn't allow for.
It took Birk three years to become a starter in the NFL. Once he did, in 2000, he went to the Pro Bowl. He credited that in part to having excellent linemen around him. Gradkowski had an injured left guard (Kelechi Osemele) next to him and turnover at left tackle.
"Gino played well. He battled his butt off, which I knew he would," Birk said.
"He prepares the right way and does everything the right way. Those are the kinds of things you want. There's no substitute for game experience in the NFL and I'm sure Gino learned a lot. He'll pick up right where he left off and be better this year."
Birk's book, "All-Pro Wisdom," is on shelves and for sale on Amazon. It's something he began working on with neighbor Rich Champan, a successful businessman, during Birk's final NFL season in 2012. It's the retired center's first shot at being an author.
"I think everywhere you look, people don't have enough confidence, passion, focus, strength to overcome, self-limitations and those types of things," Birk said.
"That's what this book and the seven choices are about. It provides a framework for people to follow in order to accomplish those things and ultimately become the greatest version of themselves."