Ravens coach Brian Billick had no intention of revealing his hand to the media yesterday and sidestepped questions about how long the starters would play in the team's final preseason game against the Washington Redskins on Thursday night at FedEx Field in Landover.
Turns out he was just as tightlipped with his players, too.
The Ravens looked lethargic in Friday night's 30-7 loss to the Minnesota Vikings - the franchise's worst loss in preseason history - and Billick afterward did not confirm or deny that his starters would play longer than the usual one series against Washington.
Yesterday, Billick dodged questions concerning the starters' playing time.
"We'll get done what we need to get done," he said. "We've got a lot of things to get done. We've got to get some rhythm, and we've got a lot of players to look at. So we'll try to balance that as best we can in the four quarters of football remaining."
Several players said they did not know how long they would be playing Thursday night. Asked whether the coaches had given the starters any indication, guard Edwin Mulitalo paused before replying: "Nope. We're going to play until they tell us to come out."
The starting offense did not fare well in the first half against the Vikings, taking the ball inside Minnesota's 40-yard line just twice in five drives. One possession ended with Fred Smoot's 69-yard interception return for a touchdown, and the final series proved fruitless after Matt Stover pushed a 46-yard field-goal attempt wide right.
The first-team defense gave up just three points, but allowed 37-year-old quarterback Brad Johnson to engineer a passing attack that accounted for 90 of the Vikings' 122 first-half yards.
While many coaches often limit their starters' time in the preseason finale to avoid injury, Billick said he would not be handcuffed by such concerns.
"You get into too much of that mode, you're going to get hurt," he said. "This game has a physical side to it that can't be denied. So everybody will do what they need to do to get ready for the opener."
J. Lewis back on field
Running back Jamal Lewis returned to the field for the first time since the team's 20-10 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Aug. 17.
Lewis, who has been sidelined since then to rest his strained left hip flexor, said his soreness is dissipating.
"The hip feels pretty good," Lewis said. "Just need a little rest on it, and we're still trying to take it slow and work it up to where it really needs to be."
Lewis said he wasn't sure if he would be ready to play against the Redskins.
"I'm anxious to get back out there," he said. "Whenever I'm ready to get back out there and whenever Coach feels I can get back out there, that's when I'll be ready to go."
The Ravens released seven players yesterday and still need to cut two more to get down to today's 75-player roster limit. The team waived wide receivers Brian Bratton and Rufus Skillern, safeties Shannon James and Steve Paris, guard Kyle Roper, defensive end Benard Thomas and long snapper Landon Schrage.
Guard Brian Rimpf (hamstring), safety B.J. Ward (migraines) and wide receiver Matt Cherry (shoulder) missed practice yesterday.
Safety Gerome Sapp returned to the field but did not practice. Billick said Sapp was dealing with an intestinal infection and did not know about his availability for the game against Washington. firstname.lastname@example.org