OWINGS MILLS – The Baltimore Ravens intend to have six-time Pro Bowl selection Matt Birk remain their center this season even though he underwent relatively minor surgery on his left knee and will be sidelined for the next three to four weeks.
The Ravens' fallback option to Birk, 35, disappeared when former Washington Redskins center Casey Rabach flunked his physical due to his surgically-repaired shoulder not being ready.
"Matt Birk had surgery," coach John Harbaugh said. "It was a minor procedure. They cleaned up his bursa sac, he had some vascular issues. Otherwise, it would have been bothering him all year. We decided to go ahead and get that cleaned up right now.
"So, we'll be looking for another center. Matt will be our starting center. Matt's older. I don't think he necessarily needs training camp."
A former Ravens third-round draft pick, Rabach had agreed to a two-year deal. So, the Ravens will look to acquire a new center to get them through the preseason.
"It's the biz," Rabach's agent, Tony Agnone, said in a text message.
The Ravens are considered unlikely to go for a high-profile replacement like Olin Kruetz or Shaun O'Hara.
They have centers Bryan Mattison and undrafted rookies Ryan Bartholomew and Tim Barnes on the roster. Bartholomew has been working with the first-team offense with Birk out.
"We tried to sign Casey, but he failed his physical," Harbaugh said. "We'll just keep looking. We've got Bryan Mattison coming back tomorrow. We'll be looking for a center to get us through camp and provide depth."
The extent of Birk's knee problems was unknown until he tried to practice last week and aggravated his knee, which had to be drained nearly every week last season while not missing a single game.
Because of the NFL lockout, the Ravens didn't have the opportunity to gauge Birk's health during the offseason.
"He wasn't here, so you don't know what a guy looks like," Harbaugh said. "That's probably one of the negatives of having this whole situation."
RAVENS ADD BERNARD POLLARD: The Ravens agreed to terms on a two-year contract with former Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard.
Pollard is a hard-hitting 6-foot-1, 228-pounder who has recorded 411 career tackles, five sacks and seven interceptions.
"It's been a long four or five months and just to get back on the field with the Ravens, that's amazing," Pollard said in a telephone interview.
"I'm going to give it my all no matter what. This defense always puts it on the line every play for 60 minutes. I think I fit right in with my style of play. I'm going to hit you, line back up and hit you again. It's exciting."
Last season, Pollard registered 111 tackles, 2 ½ sacks and four forced fumbles. He had eight tackles, 1 ½ sacks and a forced fumble in an overtime loss last season to the Ravens.
A former Purdue standout drafted in the second round, Pollard hit New England Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady in the knee and ended his season. Pollard apologized and said it was an accident, but the hit on Brady led to the adoption of an NFL rules change outlawing defensive players on the ground from lunging or diving at a quarterback's lower legs.
Pollard said he looks forward to competing with Tom Zbikowski, who's still on the non-football illness list with a skin condition, and Haruki Nakamura at strong safety.
"I talked to Ozzie Newsome and I know I'm coming in to compete," Pollard said. "It's good for all of us. We're all here to help the Ravens win."
Pollard said he carries no regrets about leaving the Texans even though he enjoyed his time in Houston, which is reshaping its defense under new coordinator Wade Phillips.
"They made changes, they had to make changes being dead last in defense," Pollard said. "That book is closed. The Ravens is the new one I just opened. I'm blessed to have this opportunity."
UMENYIORA TRADE PERMISSION RESCINDED: The New York Giants revoked their permission for disgruntled defensive end Osi Umenyiora to try to find a trading partner.
The Ravens were one of the many teams interested in acquiring Umenyiora, but the Giants apparently are sticking with their demand of a first-round draft pick for the Pro Bowl pass rusher.
The Ravens could use a player like Umenyiora considering he had 11 ½ sacks last season while Baltimore slumped to a franchise-worst 27 sacks.
MCCLAIN GOES TO CHIEFS: Le'Ron McClain confirmed he has agreed to a one-year contract with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The two-time Pro Bowl fullback will work in tandem in Kansas City with Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones.
FLOYD WATCH: Along with the Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers and the San Francisco 49ers, the Ravens remain in pursuit of San Diego Chargers free agent wide receiver Malcom Floyd.
The Ravens are now regarded as the frontrunners to land Floyd, at a potential cost of roughly $3 million annually for the 6-foot-5, 225-pounder. Floyd played for Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron for three seasons in San Diego.
INJURY UPDATES: Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth (knee), rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith (hamstring) and wide receiver James Hardy (hamstring) all returned to practice.
Meanwhile, first-round cornerback Jimmy Smith (groin) didn't practice again.
"Jimmy Smith, he has got a minor little groin tweak," Harbaugh said. "We are just playing it safe right now."
Zbikowski's skin condition is improving.
"Yeah, he looks better," Harbaugh said. "Chuck Pagano was kind of telling me and the trainer was in talking about impetigo and I wanted to know who he played for. If he was a safety that we could sign, yeah."
QUICK HITS: Punter Sam Koch also practiced field goals, clanging one off the cross bar. "I was really disappointed in that one he hit of the bar, but he made the other ones," Harbaugh said with a laugh. "That's pretty important. You have to have a backup kicker." … Tight end Ed Dickson sprinted past the defense for a long touchdown catch from quarterback Joe Flacco.
… One day after two ice cream trucks drove onto the field to give the players some refreshments, courtesy of owner Steve Bisciotti, it was still a topic of conversation around the training complex.
"It was Steve's idea," Harbaugh said. "It was a great idea." … Harbaugh has his fingers crossed that the collective bargaining agreement final details will be approved so that his restricted free agents and exclusive-rights free agents will finally be able to start practicing. "Either they will be allowed to practice or there will be another lockout or there will be some kind of compromise solution that they won't be able to practice," Harbaugh quipped. "I am not betting on another lockout." What's keeping the players from hitting the field? "My understanding is liability reasons," he said. "If they get hurt, then those contracts become null and void and then there would be damages and lawsuits and all that stuff that I am not really interested in."
Ravens: Derrick Mason to visit Jets today
By Aaron Wilson
OWINGS MILLS -- Cut by the Baltimore Ravens a week ago, veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason is scheduled to visit the New York Jets today.
Although no deal is imminent for the two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver and the Ravens have remained in contact with him, Mason is considered unlikely to return at this point.
The Ravens have made a contract offer to San Diego Chargers free agent wide receiver Malcom Floyd that's reportedly in the $3 million annual range. And the Chargers are apparently unwilling to go above that figure to retain him.
The other suitors for the 6-foot-5, 225-pounder include the Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers and the San Francisco 49ers.
As for Mason, the Ravens' career leader with 471 catches and 5,777 yards since joining the team six years ago, with the Jets he could operate in a complementary role behind Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress.
The Jets also have Jerricho Cotchery, but he is recovering from offseason back surgery.
After Bulger retirement, Ravens not jumping into backup QB pool
Will evaluate Tyrod Taylor
By Aaron Wilson
OWINGS MILLS -- Rather than immediately react to the retirement of veteran backup quarterback Marc Bulger, the Baltimore Ravens are going to take a slower approach to finding a primary reserve to starter Joe Flacco.
The veteran quarterback market is thin, including Jake Delhomme, Brodie Croyle, Todd Bouman, J.P. Losman, Chris Simms, J.T O'Sullivan and Patrick Ramsey.
For now, the Ravens will evaluate sixth-round rookie quarterback Tyrod Taylor and give him the lion's share of the snaps behind Flacco. The Ravens also have Hunter Cantwell on the roster.
"There are not as many guys available because of the late stage, but there are a few veterans," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I'm also confident that in a week or two there will be some veterans available if we decide to go that route. Right now, we want Tyrod to get the reps and see how he does."
A two-time Pro Bowl selection that passed for 22,814 career yards, 122 touchdowns and 93 interceptions, Bulger backed up Flacco last year for a $3.8 million salary. The Ravens are unlikely to spend that kind of money this year due to their tight salary cap.
In the past, they've had a young backup to Flacco like Troy Smith. And they've had older players like Bouman in that role.
"Your backup quarterback is one play away from being your starting quarterback, so it's critically important," Harbaugh said. "You've got decisions to make. Sometimes, you have to balance it out a little bit. Last year, we went out and paid a guy a lot of money to be a guy that we all had confidence in and he would have done well if he had gotten a shot."
The Ravens weren't surprised that Bulger decided to retire.
"I had heard through the grapevine that he was thinking about it, but I didn't know for sure," Harbaugh said. "In talking to Marc last year, I thought it was 50-50."
A mobile, dual-threat quarterback, Taylor was an Atlantic Coast Conference Offensive Player of the Year at Virginia Tech.
"I'm confident that I could be the backup if they need me to do that," Taylor said. "I believe in myself, but I know I've got a lot to learn and Joe is helping me pick up the offense fast."
So far, Taylor seems to be off to a solid start.
There have been some rookie miscues, but he's also flashed a live arm and an ability to improvise and escape pressure.
"We have a good young quarterback and I won't back up on that," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "They have found another extremely bright, talented young quarterback. This kid, is he going to be backing up this year? I'm not saying that because we don't know. That may not be in our or his best interest. ..
"I don't that anybody will be here. This kid is special. You saw the practice. We have got a heck of a young quarterback. It's asking a lot out of him, but we're getting him ready to play."
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