Ravens coach Brian Billick made the much-anticipated call to retired running back Robert Smith only to receive the expected response.
The NFC's leading rusher last year with the Minnesota Vikings, Smith declined Billick's offer on Wednesday to return to football and play for the Ravens. Billick, who was Smith's offensive coordinator from 1993 to 1998, has been trying to fill the void left by Jamal Lewis going down with a season-ending knee injury.
"I figured everybody thinks I talked to him so I might as well call him," Billick said. "But the man is retired. He's emphatic about it. I respect that."
Smith, 29, retired in February after gaining 1,521 yards in his first complete 16-game season and breaking the Vikings' career rushing record.
He rushed for 32 touchdowns and averaged 4.8 yards a carry during his eight-year career despite battling a number of health problems, such as injuries to both knees and ankles and a serious case of chickenpox.
"I wasn't trying to get him to commit to playing," Billick said. "I just said, `Come watch us play. Come be our guest.' He didn't want to put himself in that position. He didn't want that ember to get flamed."
After Monday's preseason opener in Philadelphia was canceled because of the unplayable artificial surface, the Ravens would have reasons to be overly cautious about their field conditions.
But they have no reservations about tonight's game against the New York Jets at the Meadowlands, where the grass may not be in perfect shape. Only two days ago, the New York Giants played host to the Jacksonville Jaguars on that same field.
The turf "could have a Grand Canyon divot in the middle; we're going to play," Billick said. "We'll play to the 50-yard line and turn around and go the other way. We're going to play the game."
Webster ending up there
Expect to see defensive tackle Larry Webster get his most work in eight pro years at end in tonight's preseason game.
Webster practiced frequently at end this week and could get up to half his snaps at there tonight. With a number of good players at tackle, including starters Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa along with backups Lional Dalton and Kelly Gregg, end could be the place for Webster to better help the defense. Last year's top backup, Keith Washington, signed with the Denver Broncos.
"I haven't played there in a long time," Webster said. "It will be something different, but I'm familiar with the position. I still have to fine-tune things."
Allen stands still
Newly acquired running back Terry Allen won't play against the Jets, which sits just fine with him.
"I feel like I'm ready, but I don't really need the preseason," said Allen, 33. "The last two games will be good enough for me. I'm going to take enough beatings during the regular season, and I don't need to compound them."
Allen, who played for Billick in Minnesota, said he hasn't had much trouble getting familiar with the offense, despite having only one week of practice under his belt.
"It's a great group of guys out there," Allen said. "Any time you can get with a group of guys like this, it's always good."
Safety Corey Harris (family emergency), defensive back Pete Destefano (ankle) and Siragusa (knee) will not play in tonight's game. Trainer Bill Tessendorf said Siragusa's surgery was a success. He should be able to return to practice in another week.
Sun staff writer Kevin Van Valkenburg contributed to this article.
What to watch for
Position: Wide receivers. The starters, Qadry Ismail and Brandon Stokley, get their first game experience with new quarterback Elvis Grbac. But waiting in the wings are Travis Taylor and Patrick Johnson, who look to heat up the competition.
Veteran: Middle linebacker Ray Lewis. Leaner and quicker since the Super Bowl, the league's Defensive MVP may be in better form than entering last season. For just over a quarter, Lewis will knock helmets with running back Curtis Martin, one of the league's top workhorses.
Rookie: Tight end Todd Heap. The Ravens' first-round pick will see time with Shannon Sharpe in the two-tight end sets, but will probably see more passes his way later in the game. Throughout camp, throws in his direction have rarely been dropped.
On the bubble: Cornerback Alvin Porter. The undrafted rookie out of Oklahoma State backs up Chris McAlister on the right side and has a chance to grab one of the final roster spots. His presence must be felt on special teams, too. - Jamison Hensley