Ravens Notebook

OWINGS MILLS – The Baltimore Ravens believe they've figured out why their punt return game has languished so far this season. Ranked 29th in the NFL in punt returns with a 5.3 average per return, the Ravens are convinced their lack of production is directly linked to the quality of the punters they've faced through four games.

"They've had some good punts, high, hanging ones," punt returner Tom Zbikowski said. "They've been punting well. I think it's the level of punters and competitions. They've been bombing them."

Zbikowski has returned 14 punts for just 80 yards, averaging 5.7 yards with a long return of 20 yards.

He has also battled a tendency to want to run laterally on a few occasions this season. And he has been pushed back, forced to retreat by punters who have averaged 46.7 yards with a 42.0 net average against Baltimore. "They're getting a lot of hang time," Zbikowski said. "Sometimes, that works to your advantage. You just keep fighting. You've got to be patient. "You learn that through experience. You break ones when you really least suspect it. When you try to, you don't. When you're trying to get 10 yards is when you finally break it." The Ravens signed rookie punt returner Prince Miller off the New England Patriots' practice squad three weeks ago, but cut him Tuesday. He was deactivated for every game, so it doesn't look like the Ravens are losing patience in Zbikowski.

"Punt returns, for whatever reason, guys have punted really well against us," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We've just got to keep working on that and see if we can pop one."

Meanwhile, the Ravens rank 24th in kickoff returns with a 21.7 average. Jalen Parmele has returned 12 kickoffs for 276 yards for a 23.0 average and a long return of 39 yards. He had a long return wiped out against the Pittsburgh Steelers due to a holding penalty. "We probably wouldn't be talking about that on the kickoff return side if we hadn't had the holding penalty and the one that popped out across the 50," Harbaugh said. "You could have driven three semis through that hole. There was really no reason to grab anybody. That's the kind of stuff that makes a difference." GAITHER NOT CLEARED: Offensive tackle Jared Gaither confirmed that he hasn't been medically cleared to play due to his lingering upper back injury.

Gaither received another second medical opinion from Dr. Robert Watkins, a Los Angeles back specialist. The Times reported on Tuesday that Gaither hadn't been cleared and is regarded as week to week. "I'm not cleared to play," Gaither said. "That's what that is. I can't block at 100 percent yet, so they won't be clearing me. Still have pain, and I still can't have all the movements, so I guess I won't be cleared until I can do all that." Gaither said that surgery isn't an option at this time.

"Every opinion I've gotten said I don't need surgery," Gaither said. "So, obviously, they're the doctors, so that's the lead that I'm following."

Gaither has been dealing with a thoracic disc injury since the first week of training camp when he was carted off the field with back spasms "Like I told you I think right after training camp, the diagnosis was a thoracic disc injury," he said. "Like I said, I don't know what but I believe it was the seventh, eighth and ninth [vertebrae] in my back, so obviously it was an injury towards that. So, I'm working to get it right."

Gaither said there's no specific timetable for his return.

"No, not at all," he said. "Kind of frustrating." Gaither said he's trying to strengthen his back as best he can.

"Right now, all I'm doing is core stabilization," Gaither said. "I don't know what you can do to help a disc, I don't know if there's much treatment you can do to help a disc. Pretty much have got to strengthen everything else around it and see how much pain you can take. "I can't wait until that day that I wake up and I'm not in dire pain or anything. I can't wait. It's been on my mind every day. Every day I wake up, I can't wait to play and get back on the field with the guys." Gaither practiced on a limited basis for one day last week, but the back flared up and he was in pain.

"I wouldn't say I was feeling better, I just wanted to see how much pain I could take so I could try to help the team," Gaither said. "That's my overall goal, is to help the team as much as I can. So, with that being said, I wanted to see how much pain I could take to see if I could play with the pain, or just to see how much progress I made.

"That's what that was, last week was purely to see…I knew what I felt like in the back of my mind, but I wanted to see if I could get out there and play through the pain. But, obviously, it was tremendous enough that I can't. As soon as I get better, I'll play." Gaither said the pain has been extreme at times and hasn't relented.

"It's been hurting pretty much straight through," Gaither said. "It's not been going off and then coming back on. Whatever I can take, I'm going to push it to that limit, so obviously, it was kind of painful out there practicing, and I knew I wouldn't have been a help to the team throughout the season and throughout the game playing that way. So, I pulled back, and I just need more time to do rehab."

REDDING RETURNS: Veteran defensive end Cory Redding has been medically cleared to resume playing football following a concussion that sidelined him for one game. "I'm up," Redding said. "It feels good. I've got the green light to play."

Redding suffered a concussion against the Cleveland Browns and was sidelined for the Ravens' 17-14 win over the P Steelers. Last week, Redding said he was still dealing with concussion symptoms and waiting for his brain to heal up so he could resume playing.

"I take it seriously," Redding said last Friday. "It's something you don't play around with, with all the recent studies that have gone on. You have to be smart and take this thing seriously. I've only had one concussion before last year. "This is the second one of my whole career. With research or no research, you're talking about your brain. This is serious. I just have to be smart. Like I said, I'm at the mercy of my doctors and the mercy of my brain."

INJURY UPDATES: The Ravens ruled out Gaither, wide receiver Donte' Stallworth (broken foot), linebacker Tavares Gooden (dislocated left shoulder) and defensive end Paul Kruger (medial collateral ligament).

Gooden reiterated that he expects to return soon after receiving a second medical opinion from Dr. John Uribe, a specialist from Coral Gables, Fla. Gooden has been sidelined since injuring his shoulder while covering a punt in the Ravens' loss to the Cincinnati Bengals

"Everything so far has been great," Gooden said. "I just want to get back healthy and I miss being out there making plays running around with my teammates. That's been a big ordeal for me these past two weeks.

"As soon as I can get back, I'm trying to. We've got a great training staff here. I've been working my butt off. When it happens, you're going to see me out there." Outside linebacker Edgar Jones (thigh) was limited in practice.

Tight end Todd Heap (shoulder), running back Ray Rice (bruised knee) and fullback Le'Ron McClain (shoulder) participated fully.

Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey didn't practice, but it was non-injury related. Fullback Spenser Larsen didn't practice due to an ankle injury.

Cornerback Andre Goodman (quadriceps), running back Knowshon Moreno (hamstring) and linebacker Wesley Woodyard (hamstring) were limited.

KRUGER SIDELINED: Kruger is expected to be sidelined for the remainder of the month with a medial collateral ligament injury in his left knee.

He's not expected to return until after the Ravens' bye week, which would have him back Nov. 7 against the Miami Dolphins. "It sucks," said Kruger, who sprained his shoulder in the preseason finale and missed the first three games. "I'm pretty disappointed about it. It's tough, man. Nothing really to say, but it's unfortunate. I haven't been injured much in my whole career, and now I've had two in the last month. So, it's just a series of unlikely events, and that's what comes with the game" Kruger had a sack and forced fumble negated against the Pittsburgh Steelers due to a penalty. He batted down a pass, but also jumped offsides and committed a holding penalty. Now, he's sidelined.

"It's unfortunate," Kruger said. "No one's more frustrated than I am, so I'm doing my best to get healthy and get out there as soon as I can. Two to four weeks is the usual recovery, so we'll see how my body reacts."

TWO KNEE SURGERIES FOR HAREWOOD: Rookie offensive tackle Ramon Harewood had surgery two weeks ago to repair damage to both knees with Dr. James Andrews performing both procedures. Placed on injured reserve before the regular season, Harewood recently had an open procedure on his right knee and an arthroscopic surgery on his left knee down in Birmingham, Ala. "After talking to Dr. Andrews, he said, ‘If you do this, you'll feel like a brand new man," Harewood said. "Pretty much, his opinion is I went through training camp on one leg. So, having this surgery is pretty good for me." The sixth-round draft pick from Morehouse said he didn't tear any ligaments.

"I'll be back in time for the offseason," said Harewood, who's on crutches. "I really don't know the ins and outs."

Harewood had been down in Birmingham, so he was eager to rejoin his teammates.

"Right now, being back, it's just relief," Harewood said. "But, the last two weeks, man, just being in Birmingham, just by myself, it was bad. It was real bad. Restless, can't stay still. "I'm not really in pain. I'm off my medication. I'm not in pain, but with this brace on, your leg wants to move, but you can't move it. Other than that, though, it's done."

QUICK HITS: Signed by the Ravens on Tuesday following a tryout, offensive lineman Scott Kooistra is looking forward to adding some depth. "Right now , I'm just kind of filling in on the scout team and showing them a look and learning my plays and doing everything they want me to do," he said. "I can adjust, I can play on the right. I can play on the left, tackle guard. Wherever they need me, that's what I'm willing to do whatever they want. I'm not really concerned with that. I'm concerned with learning the system as fast as possible."

Kooistra is a 6-foot-6, 335-pound former Cincinnati Bengals seventh-round draft pick in 2003. He has played in 84 games with one start. "It's very exciting for me, coming in here," Kooistra said. "It seems like a great group of guys. They're very welcoming, helping me out to learn the system. The coaches have all been very helpful filling me in on what I need to know on the schemes and how they do things here. It just seems like a very exciting attitude, very upbeat. The coaches are really emphasizing being champions and practicing like champions and acting like a champion."

Kooistra tried out for the Minnesota Vikings last week.

"I thought it went well," he said. "I didn't hear anything from them and got the call Monday flew up worked out and everything seemed to work out." …

Days removed from cornerback Lardarius Webb's impressive work against the Steelers as he blanketed speedy wide receiver Mike Wallace, Harbaugh isn't ruling out expanding his role and perhaps even installing him as a starter at some point.

Webb has operated as a nickel back for the past three games.

Harbaugh emphasized that Webb is healthy enough to receive more playing time now that he's further removed from his torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered last December against the Chicago Bears. "We've been very conservative with those guys for a reason," Harbaugh said. "We want to do it the right way, but he looks good."

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