Offensive lineman Alex Bernstein, a rookie free agent out of Amherst College, sat on a bench at practice yesterday, the day of his 22nd birthday, with a pale, somber look on his face.
His lower right leg was wrapped in gauze and bandages, courtesy of an operation performed Sunday at the University of Maryland's Shock Trauma Center to treat a severe bacterial infection called cellulitis. Bernstein said he is unsure when he will be able to play again. He is looking to survive the two ensuing roster cuts (next Tuesday and Aug. 24) the Ravens must make to get down to the league-mandated 53 players.
"This is the worst time this could possibly happen to me," Bernstein said. "Who would have thought that I would get taken out by a microscopic bacterium when I'm out there with 350-pound guys, and I get knocked out by something I can't even see? Hopefully, I made a good enough impression [on the coaches]."
Bernstein said that he got kicked in the shin during a practice four weeks ago. An infection developed in the swollen area, which eventually spread as far as the lymph nodes in his neck and arms before the game against the New York Jets last Friday.
Bernstein said he felt fine until the train ride to the Meadowlands last Thursday when he developed a 101-degree fever and a severely swollen leg. He returned to Baltimore for intravenous treatment Friday and Saturday and then underwent surgery on Sunday.
"They wanted to keep it [the infection] away from the bone because if you get a bone infected, you can lose a leg," Bernstein said. " They are trying to let it heal from the inside out."
Bernstein, who may face an additional procedure to close the incision where the infection was treated, definitely will miss the game against the Philadelphia Eagles this Saturday, but said that he will return as soon as the risk of another infection is gone. He said he hopes to play in the Ravens' final preseason game against the Buffalo Bills on Aug. 22.
"I pride myself on playing hurt," Bernstein said. "Once they say that I'm not at a risk for infection, I'll be back."
Said Ravens assistant head coach Kirk Ferentz: "You worry about his health, No. 1. That could be a life-and-death thing, as I understand it. The first thing right now is making sure he is well."
Green 'pleasant surprise'
Tight end Eric Green had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee twice, once in May 1996 and again in January 1997. Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said that with Green's off-season rehabilitation, he has had a good camp.
"We are extremely pleased with Eric. He has been one of the pleasant surprises of training camp," Marchibroda said.
Green played against the New York Giants in the Ravens' preseason opener two weeks ago but did not have a reception. He did not play against the Jets last weekend, to rest and protect his knee from the Meadowlands' artificial turf. The field at the Eagles' Veterans Stadium also is artificial turf, and Green said he is unsure whether he will play.
"They have the worst turf in the NFL. I don't know if it's a good idea to come back on that," he said.
Green has been criticized for his missed time with other NFL teams. Ferentz said the Ravens have not seen that side of Green.
"He came in with a clean slate and has worked extremely hard."
Stover gets kicking job
Kicker Steve McLaughlin was cut from the team yesterday. He signed as a free agent with the Ravens in April.
McLaughlin did not play in either preseason game.
"He's a great guy, a hard worker," said Matt Stover, the Ravens' No. 1 place-kicker. "You always want what is fair for your competition. Hopefully, he will get another chance [somewhere]."
Said Marchibroda: "I think it just came down to that Stover is our kicker."
Cotton rumbles on
Fullback Kenyon Cotton, a rookie free agent, increased his stock with his performance against the Jets Friday, carrying four times for 17 yards. Marchibroda said he will see some playing time Saturday.
Right now, Cotton and rookie Steve Lee are the only two true fullbacks on the team. Towson State alum Tony Vinson, who does spend time at fullback, is considered a cross between a tailback and a fullback.
"We only have two fullbacks in camp. I think Tony's value is that he is versatile," Marchibroda said.
Ex-Rams guard picked up
Guard Craig Novitsky was claimed off waivers from the St. Louis Rams on Aug. 5, to add a dimension to the Ravens' thin offensive line. With the loss of guard Sale Isaia and center Jeff Mitchell for the season and center Wally Williams until mid-October, the line is missing veteran leadership.
"We're badly in need of depth right now," Ferentz said. "We felt Craig has some experience and might be a guy that fits in our mixture. That's what we are going to decide the next couple of weeks."
No snap judgment