OWINGS MILLS – Haunted in the past by the aggressive Pittsburgh Steelers' defense repeatedly smashing into quarterback Joe Flacco, the Baltimore Ravens are facing an even more arduous task this week.
Following an offseason erased by the NFL lockout and a chaotic preseason where the starting offensive line didn't play a single snap together in a game, the Ravens' revamped line is cramming in timing and chemistry this week. The Steelers and their vaunted pass rush are the Ravens'first challenge as they open the season Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
"It's not an ideal situation for us, that's for sure," said six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk, who didn't play in any preseason games after undergoing surgery on his left knee to start training camp. "That's the world we live in right now. We'll work hard all week and study film and be as ready as we can on Sunday.
"It's chemistry stuff, working next to guys, seeing things certain ways, blocking certain ways. I guess that's why training camp is five weeks long because you need time to work together and gel."
Last season, the Ravens faltered in key blocking situations against the Steelers They lost a December game in Baltimore as strong safety Troy Polamalu went untouched b y offensive tackle Michael Oher on a busted assignment and forced Flacco to fumble to set up the Steelers' game-winning touchdown.
The Ravens allowed 40 sacks last season.
Now, the Ravens' new look offensive line of former Pro Bowl left tackle Bryant McKinnie, left offensive guard Ben Grubbs, Birk, right guard Marshal Yanda and right offensive tackle Michael Oher have to get ready on the fly.
"We're going to make sure it's not a problem," coach John Harbaugh said. "That's our jobs, all of us together, to make sure it's not a problem. We're playing on Sunday at 1 o'clock. We're not making any excuses.
"We know what we're going to do. They know what they're going to do. There will be a few wrinkles here and there, but we're just going to go play. I'm very confident in how we're going to play."
There are many reasons why the Ravens had to make so many late adjustments.
McKinnie was signed late in the preseason after being cut by the Minnesota Vikings due to weight issues and a hefty salary-cap figure. With his arrival, Oher shifted back to right tackle. And Yanda missed three preseason games due to back spasms.
Grubbs was the lone starter to play every game at his usual spot.
Nonetheless, the Ravens expect to put together a viable performance.
"Of course, we're ready," Yanda said. "We've been working as hard as we can. We'll be as prepared as we can be. We're excited and we're getting ready."
Yanda downplayed his bout with back spasms, saying, "It's recovered. I feel great."
Birk is the biggest question mark.
He has been practicing, but has yet to test his surgically-repaired knee in a game.
"I hope to," Birk said when asked if he thinks he'll start Sunday. "I'll just do everything I can to get ready. If I can't, I can't."
Birk said he has been nearly full-go in practice, but added his knee has good days and bad days.
"It's kind of a funny thing," he said."Sometimes it responds well and sometimes it doesn't. I just do everything I can to get it to feel good and get it to feel right."
Just in case Birk isn't ready, the Ravens signed five-time Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode to a one-year deal worth up to $3 million.
The former Dallas Cowboys standout practiced Monday after passing his physical and rushing back to Texas to get some clothes after a whirlwind NFL tour where he visited the Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions and the New England Patriots before signing with Baltimore.
Harbaugh declined to say if Gurode will be a backup or a starter, but the plan is for Birk to start and for Gurode to be an insurance policy if his knee can't handle contact situations.
"I wouldn't want to define it," Harbaugh said. "He's another good player on our team. It's just another guy that can play, and it'll be our job to get him up to speed as quickly as we can."
Birk said he welcomes Gurode's presence and doesn't seem threatened by him.
"He's a great player," Birk said. "I've admired him from afar for a long time. I can't believe a player like that was out there. To add a guy like that to your line, it makes you better.
Making Birk's job even tougher is Steelers hulking Pro Bowl nose guard Casey Hampton, a heavyweight interior defensive lineman known for making centers look like they're playing on roller skates.
"He's a beast," Birk said. "He doesn't make the Pro Bowl every year by accident. He can two-gap, he can penetrate.He can do anything they want him to do. Sometimes, he covers backs out of the backfield.
"Obviously, he's a big part of what they do. Obviously, I'll have my hands full on Sunday."
Harbaugh acknowledged that an offensive line does need time together to be effective.
Regardless of the situation, he has confidence in his line.
"There is truth to it, but also the better the players, the easier that is," Harbaugh said. "You could not have good players and you can work together all you want, and it's not going to be a good product. If you have good players, you have a chance to be better. It's going to be a work in progress into the season, but I like where they're going."
Notebook: Lee Evans returns to practice
Cary Williams to start, Travis Taylor returns
OWINGS MILLS – Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Lee Evans returned to practice Monday after missing time with an injured left ankle, a development that provides a boost to the passing game.
After spending time last week with his left foot in a walking boot, Evans is expected to start against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"I was able to run and move and cut and made a few plays," said Evans, who acquired in a trade from the Buffalo Bills. "It was just good to get out there and run around."
Evans downplayed the injury.
"We were doing precautionary things," Evans said. "You have to stay on top of things. It's just a matter of working back. It was good to be out there. ..
"It's good to come out here and run on it and see where it's at. We'll see how it reacts in the next couple of days."
Evans caught a 35-yard touchdown against the Washington Redskins and finished the preseason with six receptions for a team-high 128 yards.
Evans said he feels like he'll be ready after his brief convalescence.
"Yeah, absolutely, any rest you can get during the season is welcome," Evans said. "It was good to rest a little bit, but it's good to be back out here."
WILLIAMS TO START: Cary Williams is slated to start at cornerback against the Pittsburgh Steelers, according to his agent.
And Williams acknowledged that's the case following a strong preseason for the former Division II standout from Washburn University.
"It feels great," Williams said. "It's been a long time coming, a lot of prayers and a lot of hard work. It feels good that all my hard work paid off and I'm getting to play now and showing off my ability and things like that. I just thank God for the opportunity."
Williams practiced with the first-team defense Monday, which isn't a surprise considering he started three of four preseason contests.
A former Tennessee Titans seventh-round draft pick that was signed by Baltimore off their practice squad, Williams began last season serving a two-game suspension for violating the NFL personal-conduct policy during his time in Tennessee.
"It's been a long time coming," Williams said. "I worked hard to get to this point, but you can't ever relax. We have a lot of great cornerbacks here."
Williams was congratulated by former Ravens cornerback Fabian Washington on Sunday night.
"He actually texted me last night and said he was proud of me and wanted me to continue to do what I've been doing," Williams said. "I appreciate Fabe. He's a great player and a great friend and a great teammate. I thanked him for teaching me and want to continue to build on that."
What did Williams do to separate himself from the pack?
"Just hard work and just getting things done on the field, coming out here every day and trying to be a pro and continue to take each day and continue to work hard," he said. "That's what paid off."
Now, Williams is preparing for the Steelers' fast wide receivers, especially Mike Wallace.
"It's great speed," he said. "They've got great track guys out there that catch the ball. They're not just runners. They run great routes. You got to be disciplined you got to have the fundamentals down.
"You have to be patient as well. You don't want to overplay them or anything like that because they're good route runners."
TAYLOR PRACTICES: Rookie backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor returned to practice Monday after incurring a bruised left shoulder during the Ravens'final preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons.
A magnetic resonance imaging exam revealed it was only a contusion to his non-throwing shoulder.
"Nothing but a bruise," Taylor said. "Definitely that was a blessing and better it happened to my left shoulder than my right one. I practiced, I did everything.
"It's just sore. I think working out and then having a rest day Tuesday, a day off the field, will definitely help me. It's getting better fast."
A former Atlantic Coast Conference Offensive Player of the Year, Taylor emphasized that he could play Sunday if needed.
"I'll definitely be ready to go," Taylor said. "I felt fine at practice. I didn't have any problems."
Taylor said he appreciates the Ravens not feeling a need to go out and sign a veteran to back up Joe Flacco.
"Just showing confidence and giving me an opportunity, I worked hard for this," said Taylor, a sixth-round draft pick who threw one touchdown and rushed for another during the preseason with three interceptions. "This was one of my goals coming into camp. I wanted to show I can go out there and play well and continue to be the leader that I am."
QUICK HITS: The Ravens added former Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Austin Howard to the practice squad. He's a 6-foot-7, 330-pounder from Northern Iowa.
Inside linebacker Jameel McClain said he expects to remain the starter opposite All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis. "I would hope so," he said. "The coaches got me out there, they have some faith in me. We've got a lot of good linebackers, we all go out there and play. I'm fortunate to be the first guy to go out there first."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh indicated that rookie outside linebacker Michael McAdoo won't be on the active roster for long and will likely be headed to the practice squad within a week. "It's just a future move for the future of the team," Harbaugh said. "He's here for a week, and then we'll go from there. He's a practice squad guy in my mind."
Harbaugh indicated that undrafted rookie wide receiver LaQuan Williams beat the odds by making the team out of the University of Maryland. "Here's a guy, really, that our special teams coaches kind of found off the radar," Harbaugh said. "Heck of a special teams player out at Maryland, that was their guy. He had no other offers to be a free agent anywhere, and here he comes in and makes the team. That's just a great story. It's going to be fun to see where it goes from here. He's on the team for a reason. He's on the team to contribute on special teams and offense, so we'll see how he grows."
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