Ravens face tight end crisis

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens' tight end depth is virtually nonexistent at this point with their three top tight ends declared out heading into the season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

With starter Todd Heap ruled out for the ninth time in the past 10 games with a strained hamstring and Daniel Wilcox and Quinn Sypniewski out with a leg injury and a concussion, respectively, Lee Vickers is the lone healthy tight end on the active roster and is expected to start. Vickers began the season as a defensive end on the Philadelphia Eagles' practice squad.

Rookie tight end Jake Nordin could be promoted from the practice squad.

When asked if Vickers was the answer as far as a starter, Ravens coach Brian Billick replied: "We'll adapt some other ways as well."

Offensive tackle Adam Terry was wearing No. 84 in practice, although he had a humorous reason why he had shed his usual No. 78. Apparently, he lost a bet.

"I went out to dinner with Jason Brown and I bet him he couldn't eat his number 60 in chicken wings," Terry said. "He proved me wrong. He ate 84. Therefore, I lost a bet and had to wear No. 84. If I get to play tight end, it would be a nice little deal."

When asked if catching passes was in his future, Terry laughed.

"Jared Gaither is the basketball, soft-hands guy, those kind of plays would be for him," Terry said. "I just try to run people over."

The Ravens ruled an additional four players out, including quarterback Kyle Boller (concussion), running back Willis McGahee (fractured ribs), safety Gerome Sapp (hamstring) and wide receiver Demetrius Williams (high-ankle sprain).

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis is questionable after not practicing all week due to a back injury and a dislocated finger, so the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year is expected to miss his second consecutive game.

"It's not looking that good," Billick said of Lewis' prospects for Sunday.

Lewis would be replaced by Nick Greisen for the second game in a row. Greisen recorded 10 tackles in a 27-6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks last week.

"It's a great opportunity to show people I can play at a high level and I really look forward to it," Greisen said. "I became more comfortable with the tempo as the game wore on."

Meanwhile, wide receiver Mark Clayton practiced on a limited basis. He's listed as questionable with a back injury. However, Billick anticipates having him in the lineup, saying the team was just resting Clayton.

With McGahee out, Musa Smith will start at running back and Cory Ross will back him up. Mike Anderson was extremely limited with a hamstring injury, so much so that he was eating lunch in the team cafeteria toward the end of practice.

FAREWELL?: For most of the season, center Mike Flynn's teammates have been wearing black Van Halen style T-shirts that read "The Mike Flynn Farewell Tour."

Even Flynn's wife, Mary, has been sporting one at their house.

"It's not good when I go downstairs and my wife's walking around with the shirt on," said Flynn, who added that he knows, but won't reveal the culprit behind this plot. "Needless to say, I was a little pissed off."

Jokes aside, Flynn has been discussing the possibility of retiring after 10 seasons. along with offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden.

"The guy is stealing my thunder," Flynn said of Ogden. "When I retire, I'm going to make sure I don't do it after J.O. What kind of B.S. is that? I've played a few games around here. I'm old, too. When you're an old guy like me, you obviously think about that. I don't have the resume that J.O. does. I've played in a lot of big games, some good wins and some tough times around here.

"Yeah, you think back on your career. When you have a tough year like this and you're late in your career, it takes a lot out of you. It's just like any other guy in this locker room who has 10-plus years. You're going to go through a lot of emotions when the season is over."

The Ravens aren't exactly pushing Flynn to stop playing. Chris Chester was unable to overtake him as a starter this year.

"That's for Mike to decide," Billick said. "Mike has been a huge part of what we've done around here."

Wide receiver Derrick Mason, 33, definitely isn't hanging up his cleats after catching a career-high 97 passes to rank third in the NFL in receptions.

"Even I have thought, ‘Hey, is it time to leave?' Then, you have fun with the guys and you say, ‘You know what? I can stay another two or three years'" Mason said. "Everybody contemplates it. Whether you're playing at a high level or you're not, you're contemplating retirement, regardless. The way my body feels, I could do another three or four years. Right now I feel good."

QUICK HITS: Ogden (hamstring) and linebacker Edgar Jones (foot) are probable. ... Steelers offensive tackle Marvel Smith (back surgery) is out and safety Troy Smith (knee) is doubtful. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (ankle) is questionable and isn't expected to play. ... Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said he won't be offended if the Steelers don't exactly use the entire varsity for this one. "You gotta look at the big picture, he said. "I don't think it would be a smack in the face. They still can accomplish their goal of being Super Bowl champs where we're going out there playing for pride, playing for the guy next to us. They have a lot more at stake than us." Added Billick: "We've kind of taken a philosophy that we've played it straight up. But everybody has a different way that they approach it. So, we're going to play with whoever we've got and will show up and hopefully put on a good game for our fans and whoever's fans show up, theirs or ours." ... Billick complimented cornerback Derrick Martin, who intercepted a pass against the Seahawks. "Derrick has always been a competitor," Billick said. "Like I've said, he's got a good, short memory. Sometimes, it's too short, but he's always going to battle and forget what happened and move on to the next play. So, I was pleased to see Derrick do what he did." ... With McGahee and Mason eclipsing 1,000 rushing and receiving yards, respectively, it's the first time the Ravens have had two players hit those marks in the same season.

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

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