McAlister a game-time decision

OWINGS MILLS -- Baltimore Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister, who was benched against the Miami Dolphins for unspecified reasons, could remain sidelined Sunday against the Oakland Raiders due to a nagging injury concern. The Ravens are planning to start Frank Walker and Fabian Washington at cornerback

McAlister is listed as questionable on the injury report as the three-time Pro Bowl selection didn't practice Friday and is expected to be a game-time decision after aggravating his right knee, according to coach John Harbaugh.

"He's a prominent part in the packages this week, he will play a lot based on his knee right now," Harbaugh said. "He's got some soreness in the knee that flared up this week. He took 11 reps Wednesday, was unable to practice [Thursday,] was unable to practice [Friday], so right now it's going to be really a game-time decision going into Sunday. We've got two days, and he's going to work hard to get it right, but it's flared up a little bit."

The Ravens have repeatedly denied that McAlister was being disciplined for violating team rules despite rampant rumors that he was late for a team meeting the night before a 31-3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts where he was burnt for two touchdowns by wide receiver Marvin Harrison.

McAlister told reporters to "read between the lines" this week when asked if he was being punished by the team.

He wasn't listed on the injury report prior to the Dolphins game, where he played eight snaps without incident, but has been bothered by the knee all season. McAlister leads the Ravens with three interceptions.

INJURY REPORT: The Ravens listed return specialist Yamon Figurs (left knee contusion) as doubtful, and rookie running back Ray Rice and safety Jim Leonhard are expected to fill in for him again.

Figurs didn't practice as well as wide receiver Demetrius Williams (left Achilles' tendon, questionable).

Wide receiver Derrick Mason (illness) returned to practice on an extremely limited basis, but is still expected to start. He is listed as questionable as well as wide receiver Mark Clayton (thigh) and safety Ed Reed (hamstring, limited).

"He's feeling better," Harbaugh said of Mason. "He had some headache issue, very severe and he was in the meetings [Friday], but we decided to hold him out of practice."

Clayton and Williams didn't practice.

Offensive tackle Jared Gaither (neck stinger), cornerbacks Fabian Washington (back) and Derrick Martin (shoulder) and running back Willis McGahee (left knee) are probable and participated fully in practice.

NOT DISTRACTED: Harbaugh downplayed potential distractions stemming from controversies involving McAlister and linebacker Terrell Suggs, who said twice in a radio interview that backup quarterback Troy Smith should be starting over rookie Joe Flacco.

The first-year coach has drawn upon his experiences with the Philadelphia Eagles where they constantly dealt with wide receiver Terrell Owens' rebellious antics.

"It's interesting, because the distraction stuff is so much more from the outside than it is from the inside," Harbaugh said. "And we had some experience with this a couple of years ago in Philadelphia. What we found was it's not as much of a distraction on the inside as people think, because our guys are going to work.

"The guys don't think about it, they don't talk about it much. They might be jabbing ‘Sizzle' in the ribs a little about it and having some fun with it, but beyond that their focus is on football. It's not something they dwell on, really at all."

Plus, Harbaugh downplayed Suggs' endorsement of Smith over Flacco.

"Could things have been stated better? I think he's gone ahead and said that, but, yeah, we've talked about it," Harbaugh said. "He cleared it up for me, exactly what he meant to say, and we move on. I take him at his word."

COUNTING ON RICE: Drafted in the second round out of Rutgers, Rice averaged 25.3 yards on four kickoff returns in a 27-13 win over the Dolphins.

The Ravens began drives at their own 23, 25, 29 and 33-yard lines for solid field position.

"That's what the coaches want," Rice said. "Run hard and follow the wedge and take care of the football."

That simplistic, hard-nosed approach has impressed special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg.

"In our return game, we like the guys that pound it up there," Rosburg said. "That's kind of how it's designed, and Ray did that. He was physical, and he found the crease. We didn't block perfectly for him, but that's something we think we can build on."

DOLPHIN FINED: Dolphins wide receiver Brandon London was fined $5,000 by the NFL for a crushing sideline hit on Ravens tight end Edgar Jones during a kickoff return.

Harbaugh had asked the NFL to review the play, and the league agreed with him. Jones injured his hamstring slightly on the play.

QUICK HITS: Raiders defensive end Derrick Burgess (triceps) and linebacker Jon Alston (foot) are doubtful. Running back Darren McFadden (toe), quarterback Andrew Walter (calf) and defensive tackle Gerard Warren (ankle) are questionable ... Flacco was named NFLPA Rookie of the Week after completing 73.9 percent of his throws against Miami for 232 yards and one touchdown with a career-high 120.2 quarterback rating. ... With a win Sunday, the Ravens would reach 100 regular-season victories all-time. The team is 99-98-1 currently. ... Leonhard is now the Ravens' backup holder for kicks behind punter Sam Koch, replacing quarterback Todd Bouman now that Smith is the backup to Flacco and active for games. … Suggs is celebrating his 26th birthday for three days, including a Las Vegas style shindig Friday night. "I don't know if I've been invited, in fact," Harbaugh said. "I'll have to talk to him about that."

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


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