Ravens' Sanders questionable for Bengals game

OWINGS MILLS - Although nickel back Deion Sanders is listed as questionable with a strained left hamstring, he's unwilling to acknowledge just yet that he won't play in Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.<br><br> The questionable listing denotes a 50 percent chance of availability, and the flamboyant future Hall of Fame selection was held out of a portion of Wednesday's practice. If Sanders, 37, can't go, he'll likely be replaced by Ray Walls.

"I'm feeling pretty good," said Sanders, who injured himself covering Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Plaxico Burress deep down the middle in the Ravens' 30-13 win. "I'm not a gambling man, but I'm going to do my best to be there for my teammates."

Through two football games, Sanders has played 23 snaps. His most notable play was a 23-yard punt return where he felt a twinge in his hamstring before aggravating it running a step behind Burress.

When asked if Sanders was likely to play, Ravens coach Brian Billick exaggerated the seven-time Pro Bowl cornerback's advanced age. "When you're 50 years old, you're going to be questionable every week," Billick said. "When you're that old and played this long, questionable is pretty good."

Added linebacker Ray Lewis: "It's one thing telling a young guy to recover real quick, but it's another thing to tell a guy that's at Deion's point in his career to come back that quickly."

Sanders has been credited with one tackle and one pass deflection after ending a three-year retirement. He noted Wednesday that he has to concern himself with the long haul. It's doubtful that the coaching staff would risk him unnecessarily.

"This is a marathon," Sanders said. "This is not a sprint. I think you guys want me in there for the finale, not just for the 40-yard dash."

Sanders and one of his protégés, talented Bengals receiver Chad Johnson, had circled this game on their calendars. Johnson attended a football camp Sanders hosted last year in Dallas along with former Dallas Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin.

"Now, I can show everybody, not just Cincinnati, what my game is going against the best," Johnson said. "He taught me something that's going to carry me throughout a lifetime of success."

Sanders is getting used to the weekly statements of adulation, and the personal challenges. However, his health is preventing much more than a glimpse of what he was capable of during his prime when he intercepted 48 career passes. Cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Gary Baxter are entrenched as starters, and Sanders' status won't change barring injury.

"I'm just giving people an appetizer of what could be," Sanders said. "It's tough in this role. You may play one play and then sit down for 15-20 minutes, then you play another and sit for maybe 12 minutes."

Besides Walls, who called it "big shoes" to fill, Sanders' close friend, Corey Fuller, is another option for the nickel package. "It depends on what Deion does," said Fuller, who plays cornerback and safety and was inactive for the first two games and retained instead of former safety Gerome Sapp last week.

Sanders' recuperative powers and youth may be waning, but he hasn't lost his trademark wit.

Penalized for strutting upfield with his helmet off after his punt return against Pittsburgh, Sanders said his vision was obscured by his skull cap. He added that he's looking for less slippery material to wear.

When asked if he had ever played with a blindfold before, Sanders quipped: "That's the first time I've ever been blindfolded. I'm not a kinky man."

NOTES: Center Mike Flynn (broken collarbone) was ruled out on the injury report, with tight end Todd Heap (sprained ankle) and receiver Travis Taylor (groin) both listed as doubtful. Nose guard Kelly Gregg returned to practice after arthroscopic knee surgery two weeks ago and was listed as questionable along with offensive tackle Ethan Brooks (knee). ... Cornerback Calvin Carlyle, most recently with the San Francisco 49ers, was signed to the final spot on the Ravens' practice squad. ... Former Ravens safety Kim Herring (foot) is out and safety Rogers Beckett (concussion) is questionable in the most notable injuries for Cincinnati.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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