Injuries squeeze team at tight end

RAVENS NOTEBOOK

Heap, Wilcox hobbled

Sypniewski might have larger role against 49ers

October 02, 2007|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,Sun reporter

Once considered a position of strength, tight end has become a concern for the Ravens.

Injuries to Todd Heap and Daniel Wilcox have thinned the depth at the position, where Quinn Sypniewski is the only healthy player. The team also has Lee Vickers on the practice squad, but the converted defensive end was signed just last week.

"It's a tough one," coach Brian Billick said yesterday during his weekly media briefing. "A couple of weeks ago, it was the receivers; now it's the tight ends. It kind of moves around, and you adjust where you can."

Heap - who hasn't missed a game since Jan. 2, 2005 - is the most significant concern. The team's second-leading receiver in catches and yards injured his hamstring in Sunday's 27-13 loss to the Cleveland Browns and is likely questionable for Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers.

"It's the lower hamstring, which is good," Billick said. "As you know, high hamstrings are ones that can linger for a while. So, we'll see how it progresses with the week."

Wilcox, who has battled ankle injuries since training camp, injured his toe, but Billick said it was not turf toe, which tends to take longer to heal.

If neither Heap nor Wilcox can play, Sypniewski would likely make his fourth career start. The fifth-round pick in 2006 has been praised for his blocking prowess, but he also caught a 4-yard touchdown pass against the Browns.

"Quinn Sypniewski did a great job stepping in and filling in a role that he's not particularly used to," Billick said.

Billick also said he was hopeful that cornerback Samari Rolle would return from a two-week absence.

Challenging situation

Billick put up a better front than the Ravens' defense when he was asked about challenging Jamal Lewis' disputed 1-yard touchdown dive.

Although Billick acknowledged that he was late in throwing out the red flag to challenge the ruling that Lewis had scored, he said he tossed the flag as soon as he got the information from Ravens personnel upstairs.

Even if he had challenged the ruling, Billick said, the review might not have favored the Ravens.

"My hunch is that had we even reviewed it and they saw the same things that you saw, they would say that it was inconclusive. So when you challenge, it really is a guess. I wish it was more scientific than that, but what we see up in the booth, very often you just don't get it in time and you don't know - as they have stressed to us many, many times - what they're going to see when they go into the review booth. What I see on the big screen, what they saw in the booth, we have no idea whether the official is going to see that view or not. So it is a bit of a guess."

Red-zone struggles

Sypniewski's touchdown in the fourth quarter ended a streak of five quarters in which the offense had stalled inside opponents' 20-yard line.

For the season, the Ravens have scored just five touchdowns in 14 trips to the red zone. While Billick did not seem panicked about the unit's 35.7 percent success rate, he conceded that the offense must improve its rushing game in the red zone.

"Good red-zone teams usually can do that for a number of things," he said. "It forces [opponents] to come out of a shell defense, which now opens up the opportunity for the posts and the corners and all of the other things. Or force them into more man coverage when you hit that short route and that shallow route. He catches it and he gets into the end zone. So one thing cascades into the next."

End zone

A day after linebacker Ray Lewis appeared to question the team's defensive tactics, Billick expressed faith in defensive coordinator Rex Ryan and the rest of the coaching staff. "Rex and his staff will do a great job deciding - going into this game - `Have we been too passive because of who we have in? Do we need to be more aggressive? Do we need to blitz more like we've done? The reasons why we did what we did the last couple of weeks?'" Billick said. "All of that analysis goes on." ... A pass rush that has generated just six sacks has missed defensive lineman Trevor Pryce (broken left wrist), according to Billick. "That's pretty substantial," he said. "Getting Trevor back will be big for us."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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