McAlister optimistic about Monday night

OWINGS MILLS -- Baltimore Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister missed his second consecutive practice with a strained knee, but expressed optimism that he might play in Monday night's critical game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. McAlister sat out of drills Tuesday, wearing a black sweatshirt and sweatpants instead of donning a jersey and a helmet

The Pro Bowl defensive back has been jogging and backpedaling on his own, sitting out of individual and team drills.

"My knee feels great, every day it feels better than it did the next and that's all I can ask for," said McAlister, who was sidelined for the Ravens' 19-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills. "I knew I wouldn't play against Buffalo, and coming back to Pittsburgh was always the plan. It seems to be on pace. I just take it day by day and see what happens."

Ravens coach Brian Billick was noncommittal on McAlister's status, pointing out that the team isn't required to file an official injury report until Thursday.

If McAlister is unavailable, then nickel back Corey Ivy would start in his place.

Meanwhile, tight end Todd Heap (hamstring) participated in individual drills and is expected to begin practicing Thursday when the team resumes workouts after having today off.

Tight end Daniel Wilcox (sprained toe) didn't practice and remains an injured-reserve candidate if he's unable to return soon, according to Billick.

"I don't feel like I'm going on IR, I just need to get back out there," said Wilcox, who hasn't practiced since injuring his left big toe against the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 30. "I'm praying hard. It's definitely getting better. It's just a slow process.

"I'm not ruling out Monday. I'm pushing for it. If it's meant to be, I'm going to be out there on Monday helping my teammates."

Quarterback Steve McNair (back, groin), offensive tackles Jonathan Ogden (turf toe) and Adam Terry (sprained ankle), center Mike Flynn (knee sprain) and defensive end Trevor Pryce (broken wrist) all practiced.

LATE NIGHT: The Ravens are experimenting with their practice schedule with an unprecedented Saturday night practice session.

The idea, Billick said, is to prepare the Ravens for Monday's 8:30 p.m. kickoff.

"Just the fact that it's a long week, to kind of get them in the rhythm of you have to be at your best come kickoff time Monday night," Billick said. "Like going to the West Coast, trying to keep a certain body time that allows you to do that. It's something we thought we'd give it a shot."

The practice will be held indoors due to the Ravens not having lights stationed at the outdoor fields at their training complex.

"I think it should be fun," fullback Justin Green said. "Why not try something new? We get to sleep in Saturday morning, which is pretty cool."

BALL SECURITY: Rookie return specialist Yamon Figurs said he hasn't collided with the infamous rookie wall after seven games that have included the highs of a touchdown return and the lows of troublesome butterfingers.

"I haven't hit it yet, and I don't plan on running into that wall," Figurs said. "It's a long season being a rookie."

Figurs has been doing extra drills to try to protect the football after struggling with ball security against Buffalo.

"I just need to catch the ball better and stop thinking so much," said Figurs, a third-round draft pick who returned to Kansas State to attend his alma mater's Homecoming game during the bye.

Figurs' fumbles haven't gone unnoticed, but Billick appears to be tolerant of the rookie's miscues so far.

"It's just a matter of focus and recognizing you have to play to your strength," Billick said. "He understands what the fundamentals are in terms of squaring up with the ball, where the positioning of his hands need to be, how he needs to secure the ball.

"He's been doing that since he's ever played the game. So, it's just a matter of keeping that focus."

NEWCOMER: It was a perfectly-timed bye week for Ravens offensive guard Jason Brown and his wife, who celebrated the birth of their first child, a 7-pound-7-ounce baby boy named JW Jason Brown Jr.

Brown had been hoping his wife, Tay, could deliver while he was off of work.

"I knew only God could have planned something like that," Brown said. "We didn't even know exactly when we conceived. When I knew we had a bye week in the middle of the season, I've been praying ever since for my son to be born during the bye week to allow me to be home.

"It was beautiful, just seeing him. He's so small. When he opened up his eyes, they're just dreamy. The eyes are the window to a person's soul."

With that dream fulfilled, it was difficult for Brown to leave his family in North Carolina and return to Baltimore.

His wife is in her third year of dental school and plans on going back to class next week.

"She's tough," Brown said.

QUICK HITS: Billick used a physics equation to compliment the Ravens' defensive line. "They're not the biggest group in the world, but force equals mass times velocity," he said. "What they lack in mass, they make up in velocity. They've played very, very well." ... Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told Pittsburgh reporters that there's an outside chance that standout defensive end Aaron Smith (sprained knee) could return against Baltimore, adding that he doesn't expect wide receiver Santonio Holmes (quad contusion) to be out. Tomlin said that fullback Dan Kreider (sprained ankle), safety Ryan Clark (spleen) and tight end Jerame Tuman (back) are questionable for Monday.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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