ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Gino Gradkowski's excitement at joining the Broncos was palpable as he strolled the halls at Dove Valley on Thursday.
It's a new team in a new city -- but just like his old club, it's among the AFC's elite and on the short list of legitimate Super Bowl contenders. It a chance for a fresh start with familiar coaches watching him: Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison, who worked under John Harbaugh on the Ravens' staff last year.
But it's also a chance to put a frustrating 2014 behind him.
Although his growth on the practice field last year led to the Broncos' decision to acquire him in a deal that saw an exchange of third-day draft picks, the 2014 season was nevertheless the most frustrating of Gradkowski's three years to date.
He played in just eight games last year and saw 10 offensive snaps in 2014, one year after starting all 16 games. He improved as 2013 progressed, cutting the sacks and pressures allowed in the second half of the year, but it was not enough to prevent the Ravens from trading for Jeremy Zuttah last offseason.
When Zuttah arrived, Gradkowski's playing time evaporated.
Take a look at new Broncos center Gino Gradkowski from his NFL experience with the Ravens.
"It was very difficult for me," Gradkowski said, "but I came out of it a better player, a better person, and I have a chip on my shoulder now, and I feel like I have a lot to prove, and I can't wait to get started with that. "
As difficult as the experience was, his work on the practice field made an impression on Kubiak and Dennison. Along with former Broncos assistant and noted zone-blocking guru Alex Gibbs, their philosophy of promoting offensive linemen to the starting lineup after growing them in practice for a year has seen results for two decades, and was responsible for many of the Broncos' starting offensive linemen from 1995 through 2009, the last season of Dennison's first tenure on Denver's coaching staff.
Their zone blocking scheme should fit Gradkowski well.
"I think it helps undersized guys -- not that I'd say I'm undersized, but I'm smaller than some of the other centers in the league," the 300-pounder said. "I think it helps us with the movement and stuff like that."
Gradkowski is not assured of a starting spot. Manny Ramirez remains on the Broncos' roster; he started 27 consecutive games at center from the beginning of the 2013 season through Week 9 last year. Last year's sixth-round pick, Matt Paradis, could factor into the competition if he develops. Guards Ben Garland and Shelley Smith could also get looks.
But Gradkowski's year in Baltimore gives him an edge.
"In terms of Coach Kubiak's offense, it gave me a chance to learn his offense and it gave me a chance to understand it a lot better," he said.