Haley man in middle for now

From practice squad to R. Lewis' spot is rapid rise for Raven

November 14, 2006|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN REPORTER

With no timetable on Ray Lewis' return, the Ravens are prepared to go with former practice squad player Dennis Haley as the team's starting middle linebacker.

In his news conference yesterday, coach Brian Billick said the Ravens are unsure when Lewis will be able to come back from a badly bruised back, although they have not ruled him out Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.

Lewis, who has not practiced since accidentally getting hit by teammate Ed Reed on Nov. 5, missed a game for the first time this season on Sunday.

"They've got to break that pool of blood that's moving around his back ... in whatever way they can," Billick said. "As I understand it, once that's released, he should be fine. Until then, it's very stiff and sore. We'll have to see Wednesday how far along it's come."

A team official described Lewis' injury as a deep bruise and not related to a blood clot.

With Lewis inactive, the Ravens' depth at linebacker took a hit in Sunday's 27-26 win over the Tennessee Titans. His replacement, Mike Smith, lasted five plays, leaving the game after partially dislocating his shoulder. Smith could miss multiple games.

"Mike's shoulder will take awhile," Billick said. "He's clearly the most serious of the injuries."

With Lewis and Smith out, Haley tied for second on the Ravens in tackles with nine and also knocked down two passes. It was an admirable performance by Haley, who had spent nearly all of the season on the practice squad.

"He really played quite well," Billick said.

While the Ravens can work Jarret Johnson into some packages, Billick said Haley would get his first career NFL start if Lewis is out another game.

"Right now, that's kind of the only option," Billick said.

Haley, 24, a second-year player out of Virginia, acknowledged that it's been a whirlwind experience. "I'm just smiling at the situation," Haley said. "You can't complain about an opportunity to play."

The Ravens' other injury concern had been running back Musa Smith, who was carted off the field in the second quarter.

Billick described Smith's injury as a "severe body burner" but said the running back was walking fine afterward. Smith is expected to play Sunday.

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Edward Lee contributed to this article.

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