Jalen Parmele's preparation finally met opportunity Sunday in Pittsburgh. Replacing Lardarius Webb as the Ravens' kick returner, Parmele came up big in the field-position game when he returned three kicks past the 35-yard line.
Altogether, Parmele averaged 29 yards on five returns, including a 48-yard breakout in the fourth quarter with the Ravens trailing by three. They were unable to take advantage of the big return in the loss but might have found another weapon in the return game.
"He ran hard, he had good ball security and he was productive," special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. "He did a nice job for us."
Parmele, a running back by trade, has been on the Ravens' roster since December 2008, when they signed him from the Miami Dolphins' practice squad. After playing in just one of the team's first 10 games this season, Parmele has worked on special teams the past five weeks. Two weeks ago, he had three tackles and a fumble recovery against the Chicago Bears.
He hadn't returned kickoffs since his senior season at Toledo (28-yard average) but was ready when the Ravens needed him.
"It's not that hard," he said. "It comes from motivation. It's being confident and being ready when you're number's called. ... You've got to expect that you're going to play" eventually.
Parmele acknowledged he was "rusty" initially, but that apparently wore off quickly. After an 18-yard return on the first kick, he improved with each successive runback - from 22 to 28 to 29 to 48.
"I definitely had to get used to it," he said. "I think after the first couple ones, I got comfortable again."
Rosburg said being a running back probably helped Parmele.
"I think the thing that a running back brings to any return game is the lifelong experience of carrying the ball," Rosburg said. "So you don't have to coach this guy like you would, perhaps, a defensive back that's back there returning. You don't have to coach him about ball security. You remind him of it. Those skills about running off blocks and putting your foot in the ground and all those things that are involved in returning the football are also involved in running the football from the backfield."
It appears that left tackle Jared Gaither (foot) will return to the lineup Sunday in Oakland. After missing the past three games, he practiced three times this week and is listed as probable. Safety Ed Reed (groin), out the past four, is questionable but is expected to get in several snaps.
Others questionable for the Ravens are wide receiver Derrick Mason (knee), linebackers Tavares Gooden (groin) and Terrell Suggs (thigh), cornerback Cary Williams (thigh) and offensive tackle Oniel Cousins (knee).
Oakland's final injury report lists running back Justin Fargas (knee) and tackle Langston Walker (ankle) as doubtful. Among the questionable Raiders is former Maryland wide-out Darrius Heyward-Bey (foot).
A victory in Oakland puts the Ravens in the playoffs, but a loss knocks them out, the NFL confirmed Friday. They cannot win out in any 8-8 tiebreaker scenario. ... Coach John Harbaugh on the possibility the Ravens might have a short week of preparation with a potential Saturday night game in New England: "I would think the league will try to do the best [it] can not to bring us back from the West Coast and we have to play Saturday." TV, however, loves Saturday nights in Foxborough, Mass., in January. ... After his agent, Ralph Cindrich, tweeted this week that Troy Smith wants to be traded, the Ravens' backup quarterback said he expects to get the opportunity to start eventually but that his focus is where it should be this week. "What Ralph tweeted is what Ralph tweeted," Smith said. "I don't have any control over that. My focus is on Oakland, getting ready to go to the playoffs." ... Asked whether he would rest his starters Sunday if the Ravens get a big lead, Harbaugh said: "I don't anticipate that being the case. If it is the case, then you always try to make wise decisions for whatever the situation might be."