Birk optimistic offseason surgery will help his legs

After undergoing surgery to repair varicose veins in his legs, Matt Birk said he feels optimistic that his legs won't be a hindrance for him during the upcoming season.

"I feel better," the Ravens starting center said Tuesday, after the team's opening day of training camp . "[The doctors] say it'll help me feel better during the season. My leg won't get as fatigued. So it's a good thing."

Birk was among the limited group of players (quarterbacks, rookies and injured veterans) who practiced Tuesday. The Ravens first full-team practice will be Thursday.

Birk, who turned 36 on Monday, has been plagued by neck, elbow and knee injuries in three years with the Ravens but has not missed a game. In 2010, he played despite a swollen knee that had to be drained at least once a week. He sat out a good portion of last year's preseason after undergoing surgery on his left knee.

Birk's 2011 campaign ended on a disappointing note when he and the rest of the offensive line struggled against New England Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, who recorded six tackles (three for losses) and sacked quarterback Joe Flacco once. But Birk dismissed the notion that his legs contributed to that performance in the 23-20 loss to New England in the AFC championship game.

"None," he said. "None. That's all I can say about that."

Birk, who is second to inside linebacker Ray Lewis in terms of longevity in the NFL, joked that his legs look so good that he's fielding modeling offers. On a serious note, Birk said he welcomes participating in his 15th training camp.

"I think you understand that it does have a purpose," he said. "As much as you might try to deceive yourself as a player and say that you don't need it, you do. You do. And it's important from a team standpoint to be out here and doing the hard stuff and putting your body through it to get ready and get ready to endure the physical rigors of the season. If you're honest with yourself, you embrace it as part of the process. If you listen, your biological clock ticks at this time of the year — late July, August — and as a football player, you're supposed to be sweating on the football field."