“Matt makes it really easy for us to just focus in and play,” Yanda said. “We're not worrying about the call because he always gets the call in fast. We get up there and it's bang-bang. He'll call out the Mike and then if it's something else, we'll do something different. He makes it easy for us.”
NFL Network analyst Jamie Dukes, a former NFL center, said Birk's ability to call out the protections also relieves Flacco of a worry on his already-crowded plate.
“We know the impact of what (inside linebacker) Ray (Lewis) means on the other side of the ball, but when you think about having a young quarterback, Matt Birk is making sure that everybody is where they need to be,” Dukes said. “So all Joe Flacco has to do is drop back and throw the football, and that's a huge thing. I don't think he's getting near the credit that he deserves - much like I think Ray Lewis deserves for being that general on the field.”
Birk's leadership may never have been more significant than this season as the Ravens made several changes to their offensive line. Four different players have started at left guard, and the Ravens have used two different starters at three other positions (left tackle, right tackle and right guard).
Kelechi Osemele, the second of the Ravens' two second-round picks in April who shifted from right tackle to left guard for the playoffs, said Birk's presence has made him more comfortable at his latest position.
“He's one of the smartest men - in and out of football - that I've ever met,” Osemele said. “He has a lot of wisdom and a lot of experience. It's just been a heck of a lot easier to play fast with a guy like him.”
Unlike his first three seasons with the Ravens when he was hampered by neck, elbow and knee injuries, Birk has been fairly healthy this year. Birk wouldn't say whether his health might convince him to return next season, but he conceded that his passion for the game hasn't waned.
“I've always believed that I can always get better,” he said. “Even at this stage, I feel like I can still get stronger, faster, better at certain techniques. There's always something out there I can learn and get better at. That's part of the thing that keeps me going.”
Distributed by MCT Information Services