Ravens hopeful about Pro Bowl ballot

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens have today off from practice, but several players might receive a much greater reward when Pro Bowl balloting is announced Tuesday afternoon.

Among the first-place Ravens' top candidates for an all-expenses paid trip to Honolulu: nine-time All-Pro offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and seven-time All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis along with cornerback Chris McAlister, safety Ed Reed, defensive end Trevor Pryce, linebackers Adalius Thomas and Bart Scott, kicker Matt Stover and special-teams ace Gary Stills.
Defensive end Terrell Suggs and tight end Todd Heap have outside chances of being selected. Scott would be a first-time selection. Thomas has made it before for special teams, but never as a defensive player.
The NFL competition committee moved the Pro Bowl selection announcement to Tuesday because of concerns that players would be distracted and wouldn't concentrate on practice because they were either disappointed or thrilled to have been chosen for the annual all-star game.
"You worry about it," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I shouldn't, but I do worry about that. Inevitably, there are those that there's great exhilaration if you made it or there's great disappointment if you were on the edge and you were looking forward to it. I probably worry about it too much."
In 2003, the Ravens tied the Kansas City Chiefs for the most Pro Bowl selections with eight.
Could a similar number in the offing today?
"Not enough, this is a special group," Billick said. "I'm biased. I would love for all of them to have that opportunity."
PLAYOFF PLANS: As has been his habit for his entire tenure as head coach, Billick has already plotted a playoff practice and meetings schedule for the three weeks leading up to the Super Bowl in Miami, Fla.
Baltimore has made the playoffs three previous times, but has never been seeded higher than fourth or hosted a playoff game past the opening round.
"When they saw the structure that said if we can get a bye the first week, they sat straight up in their chairs and took real notice of that," Billick said.
SMITH SHUT DOWN: Running back Musa Smith's neck injury wasn't improving quickly enough for him to avoid being placed on injured reserve for the third consecutive year Saturday. He suffered a stinger against the Tennessee Titans, aggravating it against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Initially, Smith had been forecast by Billick to return Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.
The former third-round draft pick from Georgia might have played his final game for Baltimore as he's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the season.
"After visiting with the medical people and his agent and others, we decided that was the prudent way to go," Billick said. "We certainly support that. Musa has been great.
"We hate that he has to miss the next bit of what we're going to experience because he was a big part of it. He's doing what is in his best interest, and that certainly is what it should be."
QUICK HITS: McAlister's interception in the third quarter is his fifth of the season, tying a career high established as a rookie in 1999. … The offensive line's three-game streak without allowing a sack ended when Browns linebacker Chaun Thompson sacked Kyle Boller.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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