Behind Enemy Lines: Ravens Regroup

After having their schedule juggled for Hurricane Ike, Baltimore readies for the Browns...

Troy Smith has been cleared to resume light conditioning, but it's unknown when the Ravens quarterback will return to the field from his bout with severe tonsillitis.

The former Heisman Trophy winner has not practiced with the team since coming down with his illness on Aug. 22. He has lost 20 pounds while battling a blood clot in the back of his tonsils, which led to an infection in his lung.

"This is extraordinarily unlucky," said Dr. Andrew Tucker, the Ravens' head physician. "It a rare complication of a very severe tonsil infection."

The Ravens plan to start rookie quarterback Joe Flacco on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. Todd Bouman remains the backup, and Casey Bramlet is on the practice squad as the No. 3 quarterback.

Tucker said there is no timetable on Smith's return, and team specialists will evaluate him on a week to week basis. Recent tests showed that the blood clot and infection have improved, Tucker said.

Coach John Harbaugh indicated the Ravens aren't planning to place Smith on injured reserve, which would end his season.

"We're pretty certain that he's going to be back playing for the bulk of the season," Harbaugh said.

In his second season, Smith was primed to take over the team's quarterback competition after being named the starter for the Ravens' third preseason game.

But as the Ravens were traveling to St. Louis, Smith became ill and watched the game from the team hotel. A day after the Ravens returned, he was diagnosed with tonsilitis.

Smith was progressing until the Ravens' preseason finale, when he was taken to Union Memorial Hospital after complaining of chest pain. It was found that he had a clot in a major vein in his neck, which sent an infection into his lung.

Tucker said Smith, who is taking oral antibiotics, is expected to make a full recovery.

"Troy's health was never in any danger," said Tucker, who acknowledged he has never dealt with such an illness. "But this must be regarded as a serious infection and treated with close monitoring."

As a rookie last season, Smith went 1-1 as a starter, completing 53 percent for 370 yards and two touchdowns. He impressed the veteran players with his poise and confidence.

It was difficult to judge Smith this preseason because he only attempted 18 passes. He completed half of them for 113 yards, throwing no touchdowns and one interception.

When Smith is ready to play again, it's unknown whether he will take over for Bouman as the backup quarterback or be given a chance to compete against Flacco for the starting job.

"We think he's a heck of a quarterback and he's going to make our team stronger when he comes back," Harbaugh said. "(The decision) is going to be partly medical and football strategy -- what role can he play to help us win, where Joe is at and where the offense is at. I know one thing: when he comes back, it's going to be a big plus for us. When he can compete at full strength, it's going to make a stronger team. To what extent, we'll just have to see when the time comes."


--Ravens coach John Harbaugh isn't complaining about the Ravens' reshuffled schedule.

The Ravens have to play five road games in six weeks, something no other NFL team has to face.

"To be honest, we're looking forward to it," Harbaugh said. "It's going to be an opportunity and it's going to be a challenge. That'll be something we take on with relish and attack it with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind."

--Willie Anderson, who signed with the Ravens before the season opener, is expected to play against the Cleveland Browns. It is unknown whether he'll unseat Adam Terry as the starting right tackle.

"He's in the mix," Harbaugh said.

--After Harbaugh won his first game as an NFL head coach, he received a call from Atlanta's Mike Smith, a fellow rookie coach.

So, Harbaugh returned the favor, calling Washington's Jim Zorn after he won his first game.

"That was an honor to be able to call him and do that," Harbaugh said.


--NT Kelly Gregg appears extremely questionable for Sunday's game at this time. He didn't practice at the end of last week, showing he has had a setback. He is one of the keys to the Ravens' running game. He would be replaced by Justin Bannan.

--CB Fabian Washington is questionable because he didn't practice all last week. He is the team's nickel back and would strengthen the pass defense if he does return. He is an improvement over Corey Ivy, his replacement.

--WR Demetrius Williams needed this impromptu break. He was questionable for Sunday's game after injuring his hamstring late last week. But this rest should get him close to full strength for this Sunday's game against the Browns.

--OT Willie Anderson will be active for Sunday's game but his role is undefined. Asked if Anderson would start at right tackle, coach John Harbaugh said, "I don't know. He's in the mix."


PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco will probably experience growing pains, but he has already shown more poise than previous first-round pick Kyle Boller. The game -- and situations -- just don't get too big for him. He also has shown more mobility than many expected. The next step is delivering more big plays and looking downfield. The offensive line has to continue its solid pass protection.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Willis McGahee has returned slower than expected from a knee injury. But the Ravens have found viable alternatives with Ray Rice and Le'Ron McClain. This area has to be an area of strength to keep pressure off Flacco. The Ravens can run in between the tackles because the interior of the offensive line is tough.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- The Ravens will be able to slow the best passing teams as long as cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle stay healthy. Rolle is still quick enough to cover the fast receivers, and McAlister is physical enough to handle the big wide-outs. The Ravens got stronger with the return of safety Ed Reed, who is still less than full strength with a neck injury.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- The Ravens remain stout up front, which is not a surprise because their run defense has been one of the best over the past decade. Ray Lewis isn't as dominant as in previous years but he can still chase down running backs. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata should be a Pro Bowl performer this season. Once the Ravens get back nose tackle Kelly Gregg (knee), it will be hard to establish any ground game against this defense.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Yamon Figurs is a dangerous returner but he is battling a hamstring injury. Matt Stover is one of the consistent kickers in the NFL, even though he missed a field-goal attempt in the season opener. Punter Sam Koch is getting more distance on his kicks.

COACHING: B -- John Harbaugh has instilled a tough mindset, which showed up in the season opener. He is preaching a team-first mentality and more discipline, which was absent at times under former coach Brian Billick. Cam Cameron and Rex Ryan are two of the most creative coordinators in the NFL.

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