Ravens' Smith almost ready for action

OWINGS MILLS - Rookie running back Musa Smith fulfilled Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick's time table by being able to practice before the bye week. He's not being listed on the injury report for the first time this season and has recovered from arthroscopic knee surgery. Now, it's a question of when the third-round draft pick will make his NFL debut after being inactive for the first month of the season.

Smith's physical presence at 6-foot, 232 pounds could allow NFL rushing leader Jamal Lewis to rest late in games. "He looks healthy," Billick said. "He looks strong. I would love to get him some reps in a game, but he's going to have to crack that by having some presence on special teams. "It's less a function of his health, but where do we fit him in on special teams."

Smith rushed for 2,202 yards and 19 touchdowns in three seasons at Georgia, but didn't strike an optimistic chord about being utilized Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. In a nod to the extreme desert heat and a desire to limit the pounding Lewis absorbs, Billick said primary backup running back Chester Taylor's role will increase markedly. "I would imagine where last week he had four or five carries, it could be upwards of eight, nine, 10 carries this week," Billick said.

HALL OF FAME VISIT: Pro Football Hall of Fame vice president Joe Horrigan visited the Ravens' training complex Wednesday to accept the jersey Lewis wore when he shattered the NFL single-game rushing mark last month. Lewis rambled for 295 yards against the Cleveland Browns and was presented with a lifetime pass to the Hall in Canton, Ohio, where his jersey will be displayed. 

He was also given a sweatshirt adorned with the Hall of Fame logo. "It's always a pleasure to be a part of history and we appreciate you sharing it with us," Horrigan said. "Hopefully, [one day] you can come and see your bronze bust by your jersey."

Lewis leads the league with 611 rushing yards and is on pace to break Eric Dickerson's single-season record of 2,105 yards. "It is great to be put into the realm of a lot of great players in the past," Lewis said. "To have my jersey put up into the Hall of Fame, I think that is somewhere every player wants to be, like the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl."

Lewis is on pace to gain more than 2,400 yards, but would have to average just over 120 yards for the remainder of the schedule to surpass Dickerson's 1984 mark. "I don't know yet," Lewis said. "I have to take it game by game, just put one foot in front of the other and just let them add up."

MATCHUP: The Cardinals (1-4) feature a massive offensive line that averages 322 pounds. As a compliment, the unit was nicknamed the Big Red Line. Following a lackluster performance in a 24-7 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday at Texas Stadium, columnists called the oversized blockers the Big Dead Line and the Big Red Lie. Quarterback Jeff Blake was sacked twice for safeties.

In particular, 6-foot-6, 384-pound offensive guard Leonard Davis struggled to deal with the pass rush of Cowboys defensive tackle LaRoi Glover. Baltimore features a similar set of aggressive, undersized defensive linemen. "Those guys have the same type of motors as us, and were effective that way," defensive end Marques Douglas said. "We know they're big and physical. We have to work hard to take control of the line of scrimmage. It's all about quickness, technique and heart."

Baltimore has nine sacks through four games led by former Arizona State star Terrell Suggs' four sacks. "They have a lot of talented people who are relentless coming after the quarterback," Arizona coach Dave McGinnis said. "It's going to be a huge challenge for our pass protection."

QUICK HITS: Besides tight end Todd Heap and Suggs, long snapper Joe Maese also has Arizona ties. Maese is a Phoenix native who was an all-state defensive tackle. Like Heap, he didn't grow up as a Cardinals fan. "I tried to be a fan growing up there, but it's tough," Maese said. "No, I didn't have a Cardinals pennant up in my room." … The Ravens are unlikely to play in a raucous atmosphere on Sunday. Through Wednesday, only 23,506 tickets were sold, leaving 49,508 available and a TV blackout a near certainty for this silent movie of a football game in Arizona. … Along with receiver Frank Sanders and cornerback Tom Knight, reserve offensive tackle Ethan Brooks is also a former Cardinal.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.


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