McAlister a major question mark for Ravens

OWINGS MILLS -- Baltimore Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister might be out for his second consecutive game Monday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers due to a strained right knee. Although McAlister remains hopeful that he could be a potential game-time decision if the knee progresses during the next few days, it doesn't look promising.

The Pro Bowl defensive back missed his third consecutive practice Thursday, and Ravens coach Brian Billick didn't sound optimistic when asked about McAlister's prospects.

"We'll see how the week progresses, but that would be the one I'm most concerned about," Billick said of McAlister, who injured his knee in a 22-3 win over the St. Louis Rams.

McAlister has been limited to jogging and backpedaling on his own during workouts, and hasn't dressed for practice.

Corey Ivy would start his sixth game of the season if McAlister is out. Derrick Martin is slated for nickel back duties.

HEALTHY OFFENSIVE LINE: It was an uncommon sight for the injury-riddled Ravens.

As the first-string offensive line went through drills, starting offensive tackles Jonathan Ogden (turf toe) and Adam Terry (sprained ankle) lined up on the left and right side, flanking center Mike Flynn (sprained knee) as they fired into the blocking sled.

All three could start Monday. This is the first time this season that Ogden wasn't listed on the injury report.

"Gosh, just to look up there and see Jonathan and Adam Terry, it's encouraging to look up and see that," Billick said. "The prep line was our starters for the last four weeks, and they were prepping for the defense. So, that was a pretty good feeling."

Meanwhile, Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap returned to practice on a limited basis.

Heap has missed the majority of the past two contests.

"He's moving around," Billick said. "We'll have to see."

LINGERING: It was a predictable topic during Billick and middle linebacker Ray Lewis' respective conference calls with Pittsburgh reporters.

Questions about Lewis' criticism of Billick's play-calling during the final minutes of a 19-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills dominated the conversation.

"You don't like to hear those things," Billick said. "By the same token, we as coaches have to stand up there and basically criticize our players at meetings, day-in and day-out. And players have criticisms as well.

"You'd like for it not to be outside of the family, outside of the structure. You certainly understand when it happens, and the last thing you're going to do is respond to it, because then that just exacerbates the situation. Ray and I got no problem." Hours later, Lewis downplayed the impact of comments that he made on his weekly radio program.

"It doesn't matter what I said 10 days ago, my coach knows I respect him to the utmost," Lewis said. "My team knows that I would never do anything to hurt my team. ... There are things that people do with their husbands and wives that they don't like. ... Bottom line is whatever decisions you make, you make them and move on and don't let anyone make you keep dwelling on it.

"I'm trying to find the best way to win, however it comes by. I've always been that person, and I think I will never change. But for a lot of people to try to create controversy between me and my coach and between me and my team, that would never happen."

INJURY UPDATE: Tight end Daniel Wilcox (sprained toe) was absent from practice again. He's a candidate for injured reserve if he doesn't return soon.

Linebacker Antwan Barnes (thigh), Flynn (knee), quarterback Steve McNair (back, groin), defensive end Trevor Pryce (broken wrist), tight end Quinn Sypniewski (knee) and Terry all practiced, but were listed on the official injury report.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin held several players out of practice Thursday, including: safety Ryan Clark (spleen), wide receiver Santonio Holmes (quadriceps), fullback Dan Kreider (sprained ankle), defensive end Aaron Smith (knee), tight end Jerame Tuman (back) and offensive tackle Marvel Smith and wide receiver Hines Ward for coach's decisions, respectively.

LOOKING AHEAD: Return specialist B.J. Sams, who was placed on injured reserve after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, is recovering well from reconstructive surgery.

It's the second year in a row that Sams, who broke his ankle last season, has been placed on injured reserve after suffering a major injury in Cincinnati.

"I had a real good surgery, good range of motion and treatment is going well," Sams said. "It's just hard to be coming off a season-ending injury last year and then to get hurt again in the first game of the season. I just got to hang in there and continue to work hard."

The Ravens' all-time leading return man, Sams is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent following this season. With rookie Yamon Figurs already in place, it's unlikely that Sams will return.

"For the time being, I just have to think about getting back in shape and getting healthy," Sams said. "Once I get back to 100 percent, I'll worry about where I'm at when it comes time."

QUICK HITS: The Ravens tried out tight end Zach Hilton ( North Carolina ) and center Pat Ross ( Boston College ). ... The Ravens have won their past five games following byes during the Billick era, and their last three games against Pittsburgh . ... Baltimore has averaged 25.6 points following its past five byes, including 35 points last season in a win over the New Orleans Saints. ... Running back Willis McGahee eclipsed the 4,000-yard barrier with a season-high 114 yards against the Buffalo Bills, boosting his career total to 4,004 yards.

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

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