R. Lewis might be gearing up to play Sunday

Ravens linebacker may rejoin practice tomorrow

Billick optimistic but cautious

Shoulder injury could be hindrance rest of year

October 22, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The good news for the Ravens is that Ray Lewis might return on Sunday.

The bad news is that the All-Pro linebacker might not fully recover from his shoulder injury this season.

Lewis, who has been sidelined the past two games, could practice tomorrow for the first time since partially dislocating his left shoulder on Oct. 6 in Cleveland. He likely will be listed as questionable but could work out with the team if he doesn't have any substantial soreness after two days of weightlifting.

His return would come at an opportune time for the Ravens (3-3) since they will be facing the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-3) for the AFC North lead on Sunday at Ravens Stadium.

"He seems very optimistic, so I'm optimistic," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I think he's been gearing for this game. But I have to qualify it. We have to see how the week progresses."

Lewis has been a key figure in a divisional grudge match that has featured a lot of trash talk and few handshakes. If Lewis signs off on playing, Billick wants to make sure his linebacker is thinking about his shoulder and not talking from his heart.

"What I have to be careful of is that Ray's commitment to this team and his enthusiasm don't cloud his judgment as to whether he should come back this week or not," Billick said. "We are early in the process still and we have to keep the big picture in mind. So, I have to make sure that the emotion doesn't rule the day."

When Lewis eventually comes back, it's possible he won't be 100 percent for the rest of the season.

Lewis is an explosive hitter and plays with a reckless attitude, which means his shoulder will take a pounding and could slide to the edge of its socket again. The injury is not to the extent of linebacker Peter Boulware's shoulder condition a couple of years ago, but it might have a lingering effect. Wearing a protective harness will be evaluated on a week-to-week basis.

When asked about the chances of Lewis being hampered the entire season with this injury, Billick said, "That's a concern. You know Ray is going to tough his way through it."

Said team trainer Bill Tessendorf: "He's now committed to an intensive shoulder program for the rest of the year and probably the rest of his career."

Besides Lewis, the Ravens should be at full strength against the Steelers.

The Ravens' banged-up offensive line - which has seen center Mike Flynn (ankle), right guard Bennie Anderson (knee) and right tackle Ethan Brooks (knee and back) all go down - should be fully recovered. Despite numerous aches, this group showed tremendous grit in opening holes for running back Jamal Lewis in Sunday's 17-10 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"I expect to be 100 percent or close to it by Sunday," Brooks said.

The Ravens got an early scouting report on the Steelers last night, when they played the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football.

Some of the Ravens' coaches even considered getting a closer look at the Steelers. Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan had contemplated driving to Pittsburgh for the game.

The Ravens' players were committed to taking mental notes.

"I'll definitely learn something," Boulware said. "I'm going to keep my eyes open."

The animosity in the Ravens-Steelers rivalry was spiced up in three meetings last season, including a divisional playoff victory by Pittsburgh. There were warnings issued between players, supposed bounties and the nickname "Plexiglas" given to Pittsburgh receiver Plaxico Burress.

Although only half of the Ravens' current roster was around for last year's dramatics, the veterans plan to educate the newcomers about the rivalry.

"We're cranking it up," left guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "Yeah, they're just another team. But we sill have a bitter taste in our mouth from last year."

Sunday's game with Pittsburgh will also serve as a barometer as to where the Ravens stand this season.

"It's clear-cut in my mind: The Steelers are the most talented team in the AFC across the board," Billick said. "They are still going to be the team to defeat in this division."

Next for Ravens

Opponent:Pittsburgh Steelers

Site:Ravens Stadium

When:Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio:Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line:Off the board

SunSpot:For more coverage, visit sunspot.net/ravens

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