Ravens Saturday Notebook

MILLS -- Instead of being reluctant to return next season due to his limited role this year, Baltimore Ravens veteran wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh is giving it serious thought. Despite complaining several times about his complementary status as the third receiver, Houshmandzadeh said he actually enjoys playing in Baltimore and would consider coming back depending on how he would be utilized

"I'll worry about next year when it comes," said Houshmandzadeh, who signed a one-year contract with the Ravens after being cut by the Seattle Seahawks. "I've never been one to look ahead when it comes to situations like that. I'll worry about that when it comes. I like being here. I like being in the locker room, but there's a lot of things I've thought about. I like being here, I really do.

"Once the season ends, one, are we going to be playing football? How many games will we play? Will it be a full season or a full offseason? And, two, you don't know what will happen. That's the most important thing, what do they have in mind for me."

Houshmandzadeh said it won't necessarily be a financial decision since he signed a five-year, $40 million contract with the Seahawks last year and is making $855,000 on top of the $6.15 million in termination pay he's receiving from Seattle. It will come down to what the Ravens envision for him on the field, if anything. There are scenarios where the Ravens could bring back Houshmandzadeh. It will hinge heavily on what they do with Derrick Mason, who's under contract for next season. Mason, who clashed with quarterback Joe Flacco on Sunday, isn't a lock to return next season. "That has really nothing to do with looking out for my family because financially I'm alright," he said. "It won't be a financial decision for me. My family likes it out here. My kids they like it out here and they're used to me getting the ball and being a part of games. That's an adjustment to them. I got to explain things to them.

"It's will be, 'What's my role on the tem going to be?' That's it. I just want to know what it is. They might not want me. You never know. It's complicated. It's like you want a girl in high school, but if she don't want you there's nothing you can do about it. I'm not the only decision-maker when it comes to that." Houshmandzadeh has caught only 15 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns this season. He's on pace to finish with only 24 receptions for 408 yards.

He caught two passes for 79 yards, including a 56-yard score on the Ravens' first pass of the game last week against the Carolina Panthers. Is this a sign of things to come? "That's not my decision to make, whatever they want to do we're going to roll with and we're going to try to do it to the best of our ability," Houshmandzadeh said. "I'm not going to get into all that anymore because it does no good for me to say it's open or it's close or, 'I want more,' or, 'I don't want more.' "It's useless, you know. Control what you can control. When the ball comes to you, make the play. When it doesn't. You got to keep pushing." ZBIKOWSKI A GAME-TIME DECISION: Free safety Tom Zbikowski participated fully for the past two days after missing the past four games with a bruised right heel.

However, Zbikowski might not play Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a precautionary measure even though coach John Harbaugh described his status as a game-time decision. He's questionable on the injury report. "It's one of those things you want to be smart with, because if you rush, you can reinjure it," Zbikowski said. "For one game, is it really worth it? I'm dying to get back out there, and as a competitor, I want to be out there now, but as a professional, which is what you've got to be, this is my future. It's hard to put yourself at risk with an injury like that. You just want to make sure that you'll be ready to go." Harbaugh said that Zbikowski practiced fine all week.

"I think he's practiced really well, haven't seen any ill effects," Harbaugh said. "We'll have to see how he feels Sunday before the game, really, just to make sure it's strong enough. You want to make sure the guy can get through the whole game. That's the bottom line."

Through the use of orthotics and larger cleats, Zbikowski says his foot is feeling much better. "It feels pretty good," he said. "It gets a little sore, just because I haven't used it, but not painful in a bad injury way, painful in a getting stronger, sore from not doing much. "Had five weeks off, so being able to run and sprint to stuff is one thing, but being in an uncontrolled environment and having to cover NFL receivers is another. I don't really want to put the team in jeopardy. If I'm not 100 percent, I'm going to be detrimental to the team." Offensive guard Chris Chester (lower leg infection) is questionable as well as defensive end Cory Redding (arm) and tight end Ed Dickson (thigh). Chester hasn't practice all week since being hospitalized a week ago with a high fever, swelling and redness.

"I've been working on my leg and moving pretty good, so I know I probably could play," Chester said. "It's going to be the coaches' decision if they think it would be better for me to wait or for me to go this week. I'll give them my two cents. Physically, I feel more than capable of playing."

The Ravens are holding out hope that Chester might be able to play. If not, Tony Moll will start again at right guard. "We haven't ruled him out," Harbaugh said. "We always like guys to practice, however Chris is a guy who's been here from the beginning. I'm certain he could go in and play without practicing this week. He's been in all the meetings. He has an incision, so we've got to make sure that's healed up." Free safety Ed Reed is probable with an illness, but emphasized that he's feeling fine for Sunday. The Ravens think Reed might have had food poisoning.

"I don't think we've got something that's catching," Harbaugh said. "Hopefully he didn't eat anything here. They were speculating, but it's nothing that's caught. He seems fine." Redding is dealing with an elbow injury, but returned to practice Friday after missing the previous two days.

"We'll just have to see on Sunday how the elbow's feeling," Harbaugh said. "He's going to have to be powerful enough." Redding said that his strength is up to snuff, considering he was able to budge Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. "I pushed Haloti around a little bit, so I think that's a good judge of strength on my arm," Redding said. "So, it's good. It feels good. I'm making progress.

"You never play pain free in the NFL. As long as you've been in the league, you play with pain. I'm making progress to Sunday, and just staying on top of my rehab and doing everything the docs want me to do. I feel good right now." Meanwhile, the Buccaneers ruled out defensive end Kyle Moore (shoulder). Tight end Kellen Winslow (knee) practice for two days in a row and is probable. Linebacker Quincy Black (ankle), wide receiver Sammie Stroughter (foot) and offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood (knee) are also probable. KRUGER IMPROVING: Defensive end Paul Kruger recorded his first official career sack during a 37-13 win over the Carolina Panthers. The former second-round draft pick from Utah has become a full-time defensive lineman this season after entering the NFL as an outside linebacker. "Paul's done a good job," Harbaugh said. "He's worked hard. He plays two positions for us now as far as the regular stuff because he can play behind Cory Redding inside, and he also can play behind Terrell Suggs outside. So, he's made himself more and more versatile as we've gone. I think on the nickel pass-rush stuff is where he's really shined.

"I'm excited about it. I just want to see him keep continuing. He's got to work on technique and fundamentals, the little things from a technique standpoint, because he's already got the motor. He's got good athleticism. If he can become a real great technique player, which he's made huge strides on this year, he can be, I think, a real special player."

Kruger has bulked up to 275 pounds and has even lined up as an interior defensive lineman this season over centers and guards. "I think it paid off in the sense that it put him down inside during training camp and that forced him to play better technique," Harbaugh said. "He had to play the run with technique. He had to learn how to come off the ball with a flat back, get his hands inside, get his face in there and be a stout player. And that has made him a better pass rusher and it has made him a better run player.

"So I don't think it's the weight, per se. I think it's the fact that to gain the weight, it put him in that position where he had to learn how to play football inside, and it just made him a better football player. He's probably a little lighter than he was in training camp because his role is more of a pass rusher now. He's still got that strength, pretty much."

IMPRESSED: The Ravens' scouting department had a fairly high opinion of wide receiver Mike Williams heading into the NFL draft. And they spent a lot of time evaluating him, bringing him in for an official visit to their training complex and having receivers coach Jim Hostler run his Pro Day workout in his hometown of Buffalo.

Williams lasted until the fourth round due to off-field concerns that arose at Syracuse, including curfew and academic violations. He was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence last week, but leads the Ravens with 43 receptions for 681 yards and six touchdowns. He has scored a touchdown in three of the past four games and has scored in every road game this season.

"Mike Williams was a guy that we also brought in here and interviewed him," Harbaugh said. "So he was here on campus. We really liked him as a talent. He had some issues in college, I think he did a good job of kind of explaining those things. "Guys grow up. He's played so well for them. He's a threat every time he touches the ball. We knew he was that kind of talent. We had him on our draft board still. They kind of jumped in there and got him. He's made a big difference for them."

QUICK HIT: Offensive guard Tony Moll did a solid job last week against Carolina, in Harbaugh's estimation. "I know Tony wants to compete to start, and he has been competing," Harbaugh said. "He got set back a little bit in training camp with the concussion issue and missed a couple, three weeks of practice. So, he's a guy who considers himself a starter and he sure played like one last week. If he goes, it'll be a great opportunity for him to kind of prove what he's all about."

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