Ravens' McGahee targeting opener for return

OWINGS MILLS -- Although Baltimore Ravens star running back Willis McGahee is fairly resigned to missing the remainder of the preseason as he recuperates from knee surgery, he expressed confidence that he will be running the football in the season opener. Off crutches, McGahee isn't able to jog yet in the wake of arthroscopic left knee surgery and is relegated to getting exercise in a pool.

McGahee is targeting the Ravens' Sept. 7 season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals for his return. "I will be ready, but I don't know about playing in the preseason," McGahee said during his first interview since undergoing surgery. "I think I should be, but we will have to wait and see. It's always making progress. Every day I come out here, it's getting better."

McGahee underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee during training camp, having the procedure at Doctors Hospital in Coral Gables, Fla.

It was the same hospital that surgically repaired a devastating injury to his left knee in the Fiesta Bowl five years ago.

McGahee was relieved that there wasn't more damage revealed during his exploratory surgery.

Now, he's trying to work his way back in shape from a much less serious setback.

"It's not the same rehab, it's totally different," McGahee said. "This is like a walk in the park."

Ravens coach John Harbaugh acknowledged that there's a chance that McGahee may miss the entire preseason.

"There is a timetable, but I'd have to say it's fluid because you just don't know for sure," Harbaugh said. "That's the thing coaches ask all the time: 'Tell us when he's going to be back.' We want that answer, too, but it's impossible.

"Certainly, everything worries you. You're concerned about everything, but we do the best we can with whatever circumstances we're faced with."

McGahee admittedly didn't report to camp in optimum condition, weighing in at 236 pounds, which is about four over his ideal playing weight.

Because he can't run yet and the clock is ticking down to the opener, McGahee is making the most out of his aquatic workouts.

"I know it's ain't exactly running, but running in the pool is great conditioning," McGahee said. "Just ask Michael Phelps."

The other obstacle McGahee faces is learning the playbook after skipping the majority of the offseason program with the exception of one mandatory minicamp and another voluntary minicamp.

There have been questions raised about McGahee's work ethic and commitment. Running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery has said that McGahee has a lot of work to do to fully understand the offense and needs to get in better shape.

While offensive coordinator Cam Cameron installs a new offense that features the tailback as its centerpiece, McGahee is missing valuable repetitions.

"It's hard, but the game is mostly mental," McGahee said. "I need to get that down pat. There are certain things you need to be on the field to see.

"Right now, they're throwing the whole playbook at us and they want you to remember it all. What they did the first day, they might not bring it back up again until today and I'm like, 'Man, I don't remember all this.'"

Nonetheless, McGahee is in no apparent danger of losing his job to rookie second-round picck Ray Rice, who rushed for 77 yards and a touchdown in a 23-15 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Harbaugh has reiterated that McGahee remains entrenched as the starter.

Named to the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement after rushing for 1,207 yards and seven touchdowns during his first season in Baltimore following a trade from the Buffalo Bills, McGahee met fullback Lorenzo Neal at the league's annual all-star game. In Hawaii, they discussed the prospects of lining up in the same backfield one day.

In the wake of Neal being cut by the San Diego Chargers and signed by Baltimore, they are slated to play together this fall. McGahee initially was unaware that Neal had been acquired as he recuperated from his surgery.

"I was excited," McGahee said. "When I saw him, I was like, 'When did all this happen?' That made me want to come back quicker."

Neal has blocked for a 1,000-yard rusher for 11 consecutive seasons, creating a path for LaDainian Tomlinson, Eddie George, Warrick Dunn and Corey Dillon.

The four-time Pro Bowl fullback has designs on forming a top-notch tandem with McGahee whenever he recovers from his knee injury.

"He's a tough guy, he runs hard," Neal said. "He's a physical man, and we just want him to have a speedy recovery so we can get him out here on the field.

"We're going to need that guy because he's definitely a workhorse. The guy is a great back."

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


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