Ravens' Birk happy not to be center of attention

Ravens' Birk happy not to be center of attention

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Matt Birk was done a year ago, ready to retire.

Or so it seemed. Former NFL general manager Charley Casserly told a vast television audience before Baltimore's first playoff game that Birk would step into retirement after the Ravens completed their postseason run.

``That report didn't come from me,'' Birk said recently with a smirk.

Obviously not. The veteran center decided last offseason to return for at least one more year, and now he's poised to play in his first Super Bowl on Sunday.

And then, after his caps his 15th NFL season by banging helmets against the defensive line of the San Francisco 49ers, Birk will determine once again whether to take his scarred and weary body into retirement.

``I mean, I always say that I'm playing until I'm not,'' the 36-year-old Harvard grad said in the days leading up to the Super Bowl. ``Every year is just exhausting, and after the way our season ended last year (a loss in the AFC title game), it takes a while to process those emotions.

``For me, before my physical well-being, if I feel like I can do it again or if I want to do it, I need to make sure that it's good for my family. It's a big sacrifice on their part, on my wife, and I have six kids. You have to coordinate a lot of things and you have to make sure everybody is on board.''

A year ago, Birk and his family reached an agreement: He would give it go. So, after surgery to repair varicose veins in his leg, the six-time Pro Bowler showed up to training camp to mount one more charge to play in his first Super Bowl.

Birk started all 16 games and was part of an offense that scored a franchise-record 398 points.

``He's 100 percent pro,'' Ravens guard Marshal Yanda said. ``He always takes care of his body. He's had the kind of career we are all chasing. He was healthier this year and he played really well. I know I was always straining to get a higher grade than he did each week. He played last year's championship game while he was hurting.''

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis determined a couple of months ago that this would be his last season and announced Jan. 2 that he will retire after the playoffs. Lewis has received much attention and accolades these past few weeks as he reaches the end of his career.

``It's fitting. He's a legend. He's one of a kind,'' Birk said. ``The way that he did it kind of gives the fans and everybody the chance to kind of go through the experience with him.''

Birk, on the other hand, plays a position that receives very little fanfare, and he's not asking for any in what could be his final season. Besides, he insists he hasn't decided definitively on his future - in part because he wouldn't know what to do if he couldn't strap on the shoulder pads and buckle up the chin strap.

``People say, `What are you going to do when you're done?' and that's probably why I'm still playing,'' he said. ``The unknown is scary in some ways. You're never going to be able to replicate some of the feelings, some of the emotions that you get playing this game. But ... if this is as good as it gets for you, then you're in trouble. You need to realize all of this is going to be gone someday. It ends for everybody.''

Birk will be 37 when the Ravens open training camp. There's a good chance some TV guy will insist during the Super Bowl that Birk won't be back, but the reality is that he's in no rush to decide.

``Whatever's going to happen is going to happen,'' Birk said. ``(My wife is) a planner. She likes everything planned out. She asks me all the time, `Is this it?' I say, `I don't know.' It makes her mad. She wants to know. She's like everybody else.''

AFC North: Will Steelers RB Bell stay healthy this season?

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AFC North: Will Steelers RB Bell stay healthy this season?

Here’s a key AFC North question. Will Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell stay healthy?

Bell is without question one of the league’s most talented backs. However, knee injuries have ended his season the past two years, leaving the Steelers without him when they were eliminated from the playoffs.

De’Angelo Williams did a superb job in place of Bell last season, rushing for 907 yards and 11 touchdowns. But Bell is a better pass receiver and more elusive – capable of turning almost any play in to a big play. In 2014, Bell had over 2,000 yards combined from scrimmage – 1,316 yards rushing and 854 yards receiving.

Bell doesn’t want to be labeled as injury-prone, yet some people already view him that way. But at Steelers OTA’s, Bell showed up looking healthy, while vowing not to run cautiously next season.

“I’m going to be physical,” Bell told ESPN.com. “I’m out here with no knee brace or anything, didn’t wear a sleeve or anything. I’ve been training my knee for everything I’m about to go through, so when September gets here I’ll be even better than I am now. That’s even crazy to think about. But I’m excited.”

When Bell has been healthy, putting up numbers has not been a problem. The more Bell plays next season, the better the Steelers’ chances of making the playoffs.

Urschel spends his spring getting straight A's at MIT

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Urschel spends his spring getting straight A's at MIT

If the NFL had an All-Academic team, Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel would be on it.

In February, Urschel began the Ph.D program in mathematics at MIT. How’s he doing so far? Here’s a hint. When it comes to grades, Urschel is only familiar with one letter in the alphabet.

“My first semester in school in nearly three years,” Urschel wroter on Twitter. “Four PhD classes at MIT. Four A’s. The streak continues!!!”

Entering his third season with the Ravens, Urschel has found a way to juggle his love for football with his love for mathematics. He posted an interesting article on The Players Tribune this week in which he described training with the football team at MIT this spring.

“I probably had about 50 or 60 pounds on the biggest guy on MIT’s O-line,” Urschel wrote. “But when we ran, they put me to shame. They could outsprint me.

“What I found is that the team at MIT is no joke. It is a football team – in some ways, more of a football team than any I’d ever seen. These guys love football. They are playing the game because they want to. No one is making them come to practice, no one is checking up on them. They know as well as anyone about head injuries; they know that football is dangerous; they know the feeling of exhaustion and pain. They still play. They don’t do it for money, and they don’t do it for status.

“We talk about dedication and passion in the pros, but the truth is, sometimes the game feels like a job. You start to think of the paycheck. You feel the grind. But training with the team at MIT, I started thinking about what had drawn me to football as a kid. It felt like a game again. I had thought I might have something to teach the team. I never imagined they’d have so much to teach me.”

That guy in the Dos Equis beer commercials might be the most interesting man in the world. But Urschel has built a strong resume as the most interesting player on the Ravens.

RELATED: NFL ANNOUNCES LOCATIONS FOR 2019, 2020 AND 2021 SUPER BOWLS

NFL announces locations for 2019, 2020 and 2021 Super Bowls

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NFL announces locations for 2019, 2020 and 2021 Super Bowls

The NFL has decided on the locations of the 2019, 2020 and 2021 Super Bowls. The vote took place at the NFL owners meetings in Charlotte on Tuesday. 

Atlanta will host Super Bowl LIII in 2019, while South Florida (Miami) will get the event in 2020 and Los Angeles will host in 2021. 

The cities chosen each included new or upgraded stadiums in their pitches to the league. 

Atlanta will be home to the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, opening in 2017. 

Miami's stadium (Sun Life Stadium from 2010-2016) is undergoing a $400 million renovation that will include an open-air canopy to provide shade for 92 percent of seats, according to Sports Illustrated. Construction should be complete before the 2017 season. 

And Los Angeles will boast a new 300-acre, campus-style stadium housing the Rams and potentially a second team. The $2.6 billion project will be the most expensive sports arena in the world, reports CNN, and should be ready before the 2019 NFL season.