TANEYTOWN – Notwithstanding a splint supporting a damaged finger on his right snapping hand, veteran center Matt Birk emerged unscathed from the Baltimore Ravens' rout of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
One month after undergoing surgery on a bursa sac in his left knee, Birk grappled with beefy Steelers nose guard Casey Hampton during a 35-7 victory Sunday and experienced no setbacks.
"I was very happy with the knee, how it held up,"Birk said Tuesday afternoon during a reading incentive program through his Hike Foundation at a Taneytown Elementary school assembly in collaboration with the Times. "I guess that's why you never take it for granted being able to go out there and play, especially being a part of this team. Obviously, it was a great Sunday for us."
Birk also graded out highly, limiting Hampton to three tackles.
And the Ravens allowed only one sack and rushed for 170 yards against the top-ranked run defense in the NFL from a year ago.
"Matt played really well," coach John Harbaugh said."He held up against one of the best nose guards in football. We are running the stretch-zone scheme and Matt is for the most part neutralizing Casey.
"Casey made a couple of really nice plays in there, too. That was a real battle inside. It was really physical. It's trench warfare, and it's a tough battle."
Birk is about more than brawn, though.
The 6-foot-4, 310-pound Harvard graduate has played14 seasons in the NFL, utilizing his Ivy League brain to outflank and outthink defenders through superior technique and line calls.
The six-time Pro Bowl selection is responsible for changing blocking schemes on the fly, adjusting strategy to ensure that every defender is accounted for to protect quarterback Joe Flacco and open holes for running back Ray Rice.
"It's certainly something that's helped me make a career for myself in the NFL, just being able to grasp the concepts of offenses," Birk said. "When you're a young player, too, a late-round draft pick like I was, you've got to show them something.
"That certainly worked in my favor. I have good study skills. I try to tell these kids, you're not always the biggest, strongest, best guy, there's other guys in the NFL, schlubs like myself."
That message resonated with an enthusiastic crowd of students and approving teachers.
"I really tried to relay to the kids that
football players have to be smart," Birk said. "We do a lot of studying, a lot of reading. The biggest thing is to try to get them into good habits early on, try to get them to develop a love of reading when they're kids. Obviously, that'll pay off the rest of their academic career and throughout their lives as well."
A father of five who contemplated retirement before this season, Birk is adjusting to the Ravens' change this season where they're foregoing playbooks and now using iPads.
The switch to absorbing plays digitally is quite a difference from Birk's early days with the Minnesota Vikings where he toted around a hefty playbook.
"Times have changed a little bit,"Birk said. "I'm not one to really embrace technology, but it certainly is nice to just carry around the iPad instead of the big telephone book."
There have been very few players from Harvard that have flourished in the NFL.
Birk emerged as an NFL prospect playing for the Crimson, though, gaining a considerable amount of size and strength from his days as a lightly-recruited prep football player growing up in St. Paul, Minn.
When he first joined the Vikings, Birk's college pedigree was an object of curiosity and occasional teasing from teammates.
"It's all good-hearted fun," Birk said. "I've been around a while now, but early on, yeah, they'd tease you. I'm proud of it. I remember the first time I walked into the locker room a bunch of the veterans were sitting around.
"One of the starters said, 'Did you really go Harvard? That's pretty cool.' I didn't do it myself. I had a lot of help and a lot of support. I guess I'd tell the kids, if I can do it, anyone can do it."
Tuesday is the lone day off for NFL players.
Today, Birk will resume practicing for the Ravens' second game against the Tennessee Titans.
"That's life in the NFL," Birk said. "Win or lose, you've got to move on. Every week's a challenge. It's a team we don't play a lot. There's not that familiarity aspect like with the Steelers. So, we'll have to study a little more and be ready to go."
NOTES: The Ravens placed outside linebacker Michael McAdoo on injured reserve for remainder of the season with a previously undisclosed knee injury.
Wide receiver and kick returner David Reed takes over the vacated roster spot as he returns from a one-game suspension for violating the NFL substance-abuse policy. Reed was officially reinstated by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday.
McAdoo went undrafted in the NFL supplemental draft and was signed to a three-year contract by the Ravens late in the preseason.
A 6-foot-7, 245-pound raw pass rusher, McAdoo was ruled ineligible by the NCAA for academic violations and accepting extra benefits from agents. …
Flacco and Rice share the regional cover of Sports Illustrated this week.
This edition of the magazine is available in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia and West Virginia. ...
Harbaugh wasn't the only winning coach in his family Sunday.
His brother, Jim Harbaugh, won his coaching debut with the San Francisco 49ers with a 33-17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
"That was a great win for Jim,"Harbaugh said. "To be 2-0 as a family is pretty cool."
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