Coverage Unit Loaded For Bears

RAVENS NOTEBOOK

Notebook

December 18, 2009|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,edward.lee@baltsun.com

The Ravens have gone 21 consecutive games without surrendering a touchdown via kick or punt return. That streak could be tested Sunday when the Chicago Bears visit M&T Bank Stadium.

Bears rookie Johnny Knox ranks third in the NFL with a 28.8-yard average on kickoffs and has scored once. Despite being hobbled by a strained left calf, Devin Hester is regarded as one of the best punt returners in the game.

Tight end-linebacker Edgar Jones said the coverage unit knows what's in store for them.

"Those guys are good," Jones said. "We're going to have to come out and cover like we do every week. Of course, preparation during the week can help us, but those guys are dangerous. We've got to do our assignment, and it will all come together."

The Ravens aren't exactly shabby when it comes to kick and punt coverage. The unit ranks in the top five in the league in both categories, limiting opponents to a 19.7-yard average on kickoffs (No. 2 in the NFL) and a 6.0-yard average on punts (No. 4).

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said the unit has excelled despite the loss of three-time Pro Bowl special teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo, who went on injured reserve shortly after tearing his left quadriceps in a game against the New England Patriots on Oct. 4.

"I think now that we've got to this point in the season, they understand each other better, they know the guy playing next to them better, and it's no different - in my view - than defensive players," Rosberg said. "Certain guys fit in certain ways."

Injury update

Four of the six starters who did not practice Wednesday also did not participate Thursday. Free safety Ed Reed (strained hip, foot), linebacker Jarret Johnson (knee, back), wide receiver Mark Clayton (right hamstring) and left tackle Jared Gaither (lower back stiffness, foot) were missing.

Linebacker Terrell Suggs, who was limited Wednesday by a sprained ligament in his right knee, did not practice. Wide receiver Kelley Washington (ankle), defensive tackle Brandon McKinney (back) and rookie safety K.J. Gerard (thigh) also sat out for the second consecutive day.

Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (sprained right ankle), center Matt Birk (neck) and tight end L.J. Smith (sprained left ankle) returned and were limited after not practicing Wednesday. Wide receiver Derrick Mason (finger) was limited for the second straight day.

Touches down

Willis McGahee is averaging one touchdown every nine touches. But does that make up for getting fewer than eight touches in seven of 13 games this season?

"It has its ups and downs," the running back acknowledged this week. "Who wouldn't want to score touchdowns? I don't have a problem with scoring touchdowns. But when my number's called, that's what I've got to do."

McGahee got 13 touches in Sunday's 48-3 rout of the Detroit Lions, including 12 carries for 76 yards and two touchdowns.

"I've always known I can do it, but it's just me getting an opportunity to go in there," he said. "When you get three or four carries, you don't really get much of an opportunity to get going. So I'm just trying to make the best out of it, and hopefully, it can carry into this week."

Henry's death

News of the death of the Cincinnati Bengals' Chris Henry swept through the Ravens locker room, and Washington was one of the players most affected Thursday.

"It's definitely a shock to everybody," said Washington, who spent the 2005 and 2006 seasons in Cincinnati with the 26-year-old wide receiver. "He was a young man who, it seemed, had his life turned around for the better - for him, his family and his career. For something tragic like this to happen caught a lot of people off-guard. It just really wakes you up - not just as a professional athlete, but as someone in relationships and as a man. It's definitely tough."

End zone

For the Bears, Hester (strained left calf) missed his second consecutive day of practice. Starting cornerbacks Charles Tillman (back) and Zackary Bowman (illness) were upgraded to full participation after sitting out Wednesday. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris (knee) also practiced fully after being limited Wednesday.

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