String of injuries big pain for Ravens' Wilcox

October 26, 2007|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,Sun reporter

Daniel Wilcox is hurting this season.

The Ravens tight end sprained his right ankle during the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 10. Three weeks later against the Cleveland Browns, he sprained his left ankle, which is the same ankle he injured during the second week of training camp. Finally, he sprained the big toe on his left foot on the same play against the Browns.

But what bothers Wilcox the most is not being able to contribute on the field. Instead, he has been relegated to standing on the sideline or staying at home watching as the Ravens staggered to a 4-3 record before this weekend's bye.

"It's horrible," Wilcox said about being unable to play. "It's almost a feeling of `I'm letting my teammates down' because you wish you could be out there with them. You wish you could suit up with them, and you wish you could go to work with them."

Whether Wilcox will play again this season is in question. On Monday, coach Brian Billick said he expected all of the team's injured starters to return in time for the Ravens' Monday night game Nov. 5 against the Pittsburgh Steelers - with the exception of Wilcox.

"The Pittsburgh game will put us right on that outer edge that we'll have to see: `Has he made the progress we think he can and is therefore worth holding on to [for a roster spot]?'" Billick said. "Or do the doctors tell us: `No, you're still another couple weeks out?' Then we'd have to think about that [putting him on injured reserve]."

Wilcox, who has missed five games, shook his head when asked whether he considered shutting himself down for the remainder of the season.

"I want to play," he said. "I'm here for one reason, and that's to be an excellent teammate, to win games, to play my position, and that's what I'm going to do. Right now, I know I'm a little down and out, but when the time comes for me to step on the field, I'll be ready to go."

Wilcox has endured injuries in the past. A high ankle sprain forced him to miss the final three games of the 2005 season, and a pulled right hamstring sidelined him for two games late last year.

But this season has been the most difficult for Wilcox. The left ankle sprain in training camp occurred when running back Willis McGahee accidentally stepped on Wilcox's heel during practice.

A month later against the Bengals, Wilcox sprained his right ankle while blocking for B.J. Sams on a return. ("The whole ankle turned," he said.) Then against the Browns, a defender's knee landed on and twisted Wilcox's left foot and toe.

During countless hours of rehabilitation and treatment, Wilcox said he frequently has asked himself a familiar question: Why me?

"I could be [ticked] off about every single thing, but that's not going to make anything better," he said. "At the same time, I look at my teammates. I look at Dan Cody [out for the season with a lower leg injury], and I grab strength from him. I look at Mike Smith [has missed the first seven weeks after shoulder surgery] and grab strength from him. I look at B.J. Sams [out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament], and I grab strength from him. I've been blessed with injuries that I can come back from in two weeks or three weeks or four weeks later. Just the fact that I know that I'm going to have another opportunity to step on the field is a blessing."

Tight ends coach Wade Harman said Wilcox manages to stay involved.

"He stays into the game plans each week so that he knows what we're doing, and if we spin anything off of one week into the next, he stays current with that," Harman said. "He's very frustrated, as anyone would be, but he's doing all of the things that he can do that he has control over. And when he gets a chance to come back, I'm confident that he will step right in and be ready to go."

Wilcox has not taken the path of least resistance to get to this stage of his career in the NFL, and he refuses to let his injuries detour him this season.

"Everything that I've endured throughout my life - whether it was high school, junior college, college, playing for the Jets, Tampa Bay, overseas in Germany - has built me up to withstand what I'm going through now," he said. "I always feel like the Lord wouldn't put anything on your back that you can't handle, and this is just one more step to me becoming a better man and a better teammate. Like I said, it's all a blessing. I just take it in stride and am working my butt off to try to get back on the field as fast as I can."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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