Sanders hit by back spasms, status uncertain

OWINGS MILLS, FRIDAY- The Baltimore Ravens' passing game hit an unexpected wrinkle days before kickoff against the St. Louis Rams as veteran receiver Frank Sanders experienced back spasms. Sanders said if the game was played today he wouldn't likely be available, stressing that he'll be a game-time decision.

"Right now, that would be the biggest concern," Ravens coach Brian Billick said in reference to Sanders. "We have to see whether it calms down or not." Sanders, 30, said he injured himself running a route Thursday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium. 

The Ravens (5-3) travel today to play the Rams (5-3) for Sunday night's game at Edward Jones Dome. A starter, Sanders has caught eight passes for 81 yards and no touchdowns. If he's not available, he'll be replaced by Marcus Robinson. "I cut the wrong way and I felt a twinge," Sanders said. "I've had this before, but it's usually come after a long day of running. "I don't know right now if I'll be able to play. Hopefully, it will respond well to treatment, the chiropractor and the airplane ride. I would list myself as probable right now. I'm definitely not out yet." 

Sanders missed the season-opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers after being sidelined for the majority of training camp with dislocated toes. He ended last season on injured reserve with the Arizona Cardinals due to a foot problem. Baltimore ranks last in the NFL in passing with 131.1 yards per contest. "We're a group of receivers and if one goes down, the others have to pick up the slack," said Robinson, who has six catches for 55 yards. "Hopefully, Frank will be back." 

SUBSTITUTION PATTERNS: Because the top-ranked Rams' offense tends to shuffle personnel liberally and has a tendency to throw on first, second or third down, the Ravens' defense will try to adjust accordingly. That could mean increased substitution as well as more repetitions for rookie Terrell Suggs in the base defense, or fellow outside linebackers Adalius Thomas and Peter Boulware shifting between two-point and three-point stances. "The Rams substitute personnel so much that it does create a substitution issue for our squad," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "Typically, we do a lot of subbing anyway to get whoever you want on the field in different situations. "We do have some versatile people who wear a lot of hats. That's helped us thus far. Hopefully, this week we'll be in tune again.

 Suggs is a part of that along with Adalius and a lot of other people." Disrupting Rams quarterback Marc Bulger, as the 49ers did with five sacks, is a major part of the Ravens' game plan. "They're a very explosive offense," Suggs said. "I want to get in their quarterback's face every play." 

INJURY UPDATE: Billick said defensive backs Chad Williams (lower back strain) and Corey Fuller (groin, hamstring) are moving around better. Both are listed as questionable. Running backs Jamal Lewis (shoulder) and Chester Taylor (leg) are listed as probable along with receiver Travis Taylor and punter Dave Zastudil. Rams linebacker Tommy Polley, a Baltimore Dunbar graduate, will return from a dislocated elbow. Defensive end Leonard Little has a "remote" chance of playing with a torn pectoral muscle, Rams coach Mike Martz said. Running back Marshall Faulk is set to return from hand and knee injuries, but the starter will be spelled by rookie Arlen Harris. "How much he plays, there is a conditioning factor," Martz said. "We'll just have to play that by ear." 

QUICK HITS: The Ravens considered drafted Penn State defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy in the first round. St. Louis took him 12th overall, but the "Grizzly Bear" has only two tackles and a blocked extra point. … Ravens offensive guard Bennie Anderson, a St. Louis native, was cut by the Rams before the 2000 season. "I was there maybe 20 minutes," Anderson said, "and I'm holding a grudge." 

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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