Five weeks removed from surgery on his left knee, Ravens center Matt Birk will square off against five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Casey Hampton and the vaunted Steelers defense tomorrow afternoon.
Birk has had two full weeks of practice since coming back from the surgery, and while the 14-year veteran declined to assign a percentage to his health, he feels he's progressed well since returning to the practice field.
"I don't like to do the percentages or anything." Birk said. "I'll keep treating it and feel as good as I can come Sunday. We'll just give it everything we've got."
When healthy, Birk is a stabilizing force on the interior of the Ravens' offensive line. Given how many shuffling parts there have been along the O-line over the last couple weeks, having Birk back in the middle making the calls should help smooth the transition for new left tackle Bryant McKinnie, right guard Marshal Yanda (who only played in one preseason game and is moving back to right guard after playing right tackle last year) and new right tackle Michael Oher.
Some people might not realize how crucial the center is to the offensive line as a whole. Having someone with Birk's experience - both in the Ravens' system and the NFL in general - will be a major benefit to the rest of the group, which can rely on the 35-year-old to shout out blocking assignments and make adjustments when necessary.
Birk has gone through full practices this entire week, and he hasn't been listed on the Ravens' injury report at all, indicating he'll be good to go against Pittsburgh tomorrow.
"I feel good," Birk said. "Especially playing these guys, there's always challenges and things, but I felt like the week went well. Obviously, able to get some valuable time in together (with) everybody, so we'll keep preparing and see how it goes."
The Harvard product won't have much chance to ease himself back into action; he'll face Pittsburgh's fierce defensive front and one of the toughest defensive tackles in the league in Hampton right out of the gate.
Birk downplayed his matchup, however, saying he doesn't view Sunday's game as any different than the other 15 on the Ravens' schedule.
"Every game is hard, every game is physical," he said. "You play offensive line, it doesn't matter who you play. Every Monday morning, you're going to wake up and be sore as heck."