Ravens' injury situation worsening

OWINGS MILLS -- The last-place Baltimore Ravens' dire injury situation has wrought chaos in their secondary and offensive backfield. With safety Will Demps and running back Musa Smith both headed to injured reserve and rookie fullback Justin Green's season in doubt, the Ravens (3-8) are going to have to execute at least two roster moves.

The Ravens may promote defensive backs from their practice squad and sign one or two running backs.

And if running back Chester Taylor's foot injury doesn't improve markedly, Baltimore will likely be relying heavily again on Jamal Lewis following his top game of the season.

With Taylor held out of Sunday's 42-29 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, a planned rotation was scrapped as Lewis was the only healthy running back on the roster. The former NFL Offensive Player of the Year responded with a season-high 113 yards on 23 carries and scored his second touchdown.

"I'm very excited, I know Jamal is, about the way he ran," Ravens coach Brian Billick said Monday following Lewis' first 100-yard rushing performance of the year. "I know the offense is excited, the line's excited, that he hit it the way he did. What that rotation is and how we go about it is going to be affected by Chester's situation."

Demps tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the second quarter Sunday. It's likely that the starting safeties against the Houston Texans this week will

be Chad Williams and rookie B.J. Ward unless Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed is able to return from a high-ankle sprain.

Athletic outside linebacker Adalius Thomas is another candidate to play safety and has lined up there more often in the past two weeks.

It's likely that one or both of the Ravens' practice squad defensive backs -- Robb Butler and Duvol Thompson -- could be promoted to the active roster.It's unlikely that whichever currently unemployed free agents are added to the roster will be recognizable names.

"There's no pending veteran presence that we would sign in the safety position or at fullback that we would go, 'Oh, we're OK. We know who this guy is,'" Billick said. "I don't think that guy exists. The guys from the outside that come in will probably, as much as anything, have a special-teams presence."

Billick made no concrete forecast for Reed and middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who have missed the past six and five games, respectively, other than declaring that they will likely practice Wednesday. Reed has been hinting that he will return this week and Billick indicated weeks ago that Lewis (thigh) would return against the Houston Texans.

"Ed and Ray have progressed significantly," said Billick, who indicated that starting right tackle Orlando Brown (back) and offensive guard Keydrick Vincent (leg) are ready to return after missing two games. "Is it enough to play?"

The timing of his blown-out knee couldn't be worse for Demps, who's slated to be an unrestricted free agent after this season. His rehabilitation could last an entire year following surgery.

"Will deserves better, but life's not fair," Billick said. "His whole career has been of him overcoming long odds, and this is another set of long odds for Will to have to deal with."

A makeshift defensive backfield that was without Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister due to an aggravated hamstring injury was shredded by Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer for three touchdowns and 302 yards.

Veteran nickel backs Dale Carter, 34, and Deion Sanders, 38, were thrust into expanded roles and both surrendered touchdowns. Zach Norton was forced into a rare appearance.

Meanwhile, Smith's recovery from a gruesome broken leg last year limited him to only one game.

"The leg has not quite responded," Billick said. "With the repeated exertion on it, it has continued to stay sore to the point where this is probably in his best interest."

Green injured his wrist badly enough Sunday that he could miss two to four weeks and might need surgery. The Ravens expect to know his prognosis by today.

If he's out two weeks, then Green will likely stay on the roster. If he's going to be out for a month, then the Ravens will likely place him on injured reserve as there's only five games remaining on the schedule.

Fullback Ovie Mughelli will start against the Texans, and tight ends Daniel Wilcox and Darnell Dinkins could complement him as lead blockers.

Losing Green hurts the Ravens beyond the loss of his blocking presence because he was capable of playing running back in a one-back set and is adept at catching passes out the backfield.

"To now not have him leaves us vulnerable," Billick said. "It's very likely that one of the signees will be a running back. I love Ovie, but I ain't going to hand him the ball."

If Taylor remains out of the lineup, this gives Lewis another chance to prove his point that he can produce given enough carries. Lewis gained 76 yards on nine carries in the second half after being limited to 37 yards on 14 carries in the first half.

"Clearly, it gives a guy a chance to get in a rhythm," Billick said. "I don't think we can discount that. Jamal clearly had that rhythm, good tough physical running, and he got stronger as he went."

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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