Jason Phillips is tied for second in total tackles, fourth in sacks and first in recovered fumbles, and it's still not enough for him to feel entirely comfortable with his standing on the Ravens.
"I don't think you can ever think you've made enough of an impression," the second-year linebacker said. "You've constantly got to work to get better in this league. There's always going to be someone who's just as good, if not better. So you really can't be satisfied with making a couple plays here and there because it's a week-in, week-out process. It's a long season, so you just have to keep consistently doing it."
A fifth-round pick out of TCU in last year's draft, Phillips is in the unenviable position of lining up at a position where the Ravens are especially deep. The inside linebacker is believed to be trailing Jameel McClain, Dannell Ellerbe and Tavares Gooden in the competition for a spot on the team's 53-man active roster.
Phillips' development was delayed by a knee injury that forced him to injured reserve, thereby sitting out his rookie campaign. But rather than stew about his situation, Phillips viewed it as a chance to further his development.
"It was almost like having a redshirt year in the pros," he said. "It gave me a chance to see how everything works, see how going through a 16-game season works, watching Ray [Lewis] and those guys prepare every week. I was just getting a feel for the operations around here. So it definitely helped."
Coach John Harbaugh also noted Phillips' opportunity to learn last season.
"We really liked him coming out [of college], and I think he had the whole season where he trained, and he was in meetings and things like that," Harbaugh said. "There was a little bit of — probably in training camp — knocking off the rust a little bit because he hadn't played for a while. But I would say the last week, he's really come on. He's played well in both preseason games, and he's making a real run out of it now."
Phillips' best performance occurred last Saturday night when he sacked and stripped Washington Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman in the third quarter and pounced on another Grossman fumble in the fourth of the Ravens' 23-3 win.
Phillips said his objective is simple.
"I want to make every play I can that comes my way," he said. "You can't really push anything too hard, but when you get your chance, you have to show up and make the play."
Gaither not ruled out
Despite speculation that Jared Gaither's back injury could linger a few weeks into the regular season, there's also a chance that the issue can clear up in enough time for the offensive tackle to play in the regular-season opener, Harbaugh said Wednesday.
"That's what we've been told. We'll just have to see how it goes," Harbaugh said. "I know one thing: he's working really hard. He gets treatment all day long. He's worked very hard on his lower body. He's worked hard on his cardiovascular. I think Jared's doing everything he can to get himself back."
Harbaugh also pointed out there wasn't a contradiction between the team's and Gaither's account of the injury.
A week ago, Harbaugh said Gaither had a slight tear in his back. On Tuesday, Gaither said he had thoracic disc injury, which is commonly herniated.
"One doctor says it's irritated. The other doctor says it's got a slight tear in it," Harbaugh said. "I was told by the trainers that's what is causing the back spasms."
Harbaugh added, "Jared described it as best he could. To say it's contradictory … we all do the best we can to describe it but we're not doing medical examinations. Until it settles down, he just can't get out there because he can't get in position to do it."
Ayanbadejo's return uncertain
Harbaugh said he is less confident now than he was at the beginning of training camp about inside linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo joining the team at the start of the regular season.
Ayanbadejo tore a quadriceps muscle in week 4 of the 2009 season and missed the remainder of the year. Up until that point, he had played well as both a starter on defense and on special teams. His absence would hurt the Ravens. Besides being one of the team's top special teams players, Ayanbadejo was also one of the team's most complete linebackers.
Despite his small size, he played well against the run last season and could also drop in pass coverage. At one point last season, the Ravens had a special package for Ayanbadejo.
The Ravens currently have McClain, Ellerbe and Gooden competing for the other inside linebacker position opposite Lewis.
"The fact that he hasn't been able to practice all through camp means he's probably pushed back to some extent, and we'll just have to decide, really, within the next week what status he's going to be going into the season," Harbaugh said.
"Well, he works out and trains and all that, but he got no work, obviously, in practice, which is really the main work that you need," Harbaugh said. "He says he's feeling a lot better, and that's where he's at."