Gaither returns to practice, should start

OWINGS MILLS – Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Jared Gaither returned to practice Thursday and was upgraded to full participation after being held out one day due to an aggravated right ankle injury.

Gaither's status for Saturday night's AFC divisional playoff game is especially critical considering that the Indianapolis Colts feature the top set of defensive ends in the league in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

Before limping off to the cold tub to treat his ankle, Gaither didn't have much to say. "I feel awesome, how about that?" Gaither said sarcastically.

At this point, Gaither is expected to play. Whether he'll be healthy enough to stop Freeney's repertoire of pass-rushing moves, including a wicked spin move, is up for debate.

"I don't know if there's much that's going to keep any guys out of any of these guys, on their side or our side," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "My guess is he'll be ready to roll."

If he's not ready, then the Ravens could be in trouble.

If Gaither couldn't play, the Ravens would likely have to go with Oniel Cousins at right tackle with Michael Oher shifting over to left tackle.

Cousins struggled against the Pittsburgh Steelers, allowing consecutive sacks to outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, false-starting once and picking up a personal foul for a late hit on Woodley that cost the Ravens a field goal.

The Ravens' only other option would be to move Marshal Yanda to right tackle from right guard and have Chris Chester step in at guard.

Even though it seemed fairly clear that Cousins was overwhelmed in Pittsburgh, Cameron defended the second-year tackle's performance.

"Oniel is a good football player," Cameron said. "That thing has really taken on a life of its own. That was a function of our entire unit. That was not him. He was the same guy blocking all of those runs and protecting. There were three plays where he was about 50 percent of the issue.

"We're not blocking guys like that one-on-one. I don't care who the tackles are for the most part. So, he learned a lot. He's becoming a good football player. You're talking about a guy who has come a long way, real conscientious, a good worker, gives us some depth, some youth. He's an outstanding run blocker, and he's like all young tackles: They have got to learn how to pass protect in this league, especially against the great players."

INJURY UPDATES: Reserve cornerback Cary Williams (hamstring) was upgraded to full participation in practice.

Also participating fully: tight end Todd Heap (back stinger), wide receiver Derrick Mason (hand), safety Ed Reed (groin, foot) and inside linebacker Tavares Gooden (knee).

Ravens coach John Harbaugh explained why head trainer Bill Tessendorf didn't list quarterback Joe Flacco (hip contusion) on the injury report. "I guess he's okay," Harbaugh said with a smile. "I guess Bill feels like he's improved enough to where it's not an injury. What it usually means is he's not receiving treatment anymore."

SUGGS IS BACK: There are plenty of encouraging signs that outside linebacker Terrell Suggs has returned to form after an injury-plagued season.

He recorded a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery on Tom Brady during the Ravens' 33-14 playoff win over the New England Patriots.

And he's firing off the football faster than he did for several weeks ever since returning from a sprained knee suffered on an illegal block from Cleveland Browns quarterback Brady Quinn.

Suggs was sidelined for the first game against the Colts.

"Terrell Suggs has been banged-up coming out of training camp," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "Credit to Terrell, he keeps coming out there and going. A lot of guys probably would have said, ‘Hey, I've got to be off right now.

"When he was out for those three weeks, it killed him. He wanted to be in there. I think now you're seeing Terrell Suggs healthier and healthier every day, and that's what we expected to see."

Suggs has never sacked Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, though, in five career meetings.

However, has registered five sacks in six career playoff games. That includes two sacks of Ben Roethlisberger during the AFC title game last season despite a shoulder injury.

"He's a smart player and I think he's an excellent pass rusher, but he's athletic enough that they drop him back in coverage and have him cover tight ends and running backs," Manning told Indianapolis reporters. "Much like us when one of our top players doesn't play, I think you're always better when you have your top veteran players. They are certainly a better team with him our on the field."

LEWIS HONORED: Middle linebacker Ray Lewis was named a first-team All-Pro selection.

Free safety Ed Reed, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, fullback Le'Ron McClain and running back Ray Rice were second-team selections.

FUN AND GAMES: The Ravens had an impromptu slam-dunk session in the locker room Thursday, manufacturing a hoop out of a clothes hanger for the rim, using strips of tape for the net and a FedEx envelope as the backboard.

Frank Walker, Prescott Burgess, Mark Clayton and Gooden were among the participants, dunking a ball with glee while music blared from Gooden's locker.

After a few dunks, they wised up and moved the locker stools out of harm's way.

QUICK HITS: The Colts made no changes to their injury report with 22 players listed as practicing on a full-time basis. Eight starters on defense are listed, including Mathis (shoulder) and Freeney, linebackers Gary Brackett (quadriceps) and Clint Session (knee), safety Melvin Bullitt (shoulder), cornerback Jarraud Powers (hamstring) and defensive tackles Dan Muir (shoulder) and Antonio Johnson (shoulder). Plus, four offensive starters practiced: offensive tackles Ryan Diem (elbow) and Charlie Johnson (foot) as well as wide receivers Reggie Wayne (knee) and Pierre Garcon (hand). ... Colts tight end Dallas Clark caught 100 passes for 10 touchdowns this season, including one score on an acrobatic one-handed catch between Reed and cornerback Domonique Foxworth in a mixed-up coverage snafu. Over the past four games against Baltimore, though, Clark has caught just six passes for 76 yards. That doesn't mean he's any less dangerous. "Dallas Clark is not only a great athlete and a great football player, he's one of those guys that plays hard every snap," Mattison said. "When you have that combination, that's a guy you've got to really deal with." … Harbaugh commented on the significance of playing the Colts to Baltimoreans who will never forget the sting of their former NFL team being moved to Indianapolis on a snowy night. "We understand the history," Harbaugh said. "I'm old enough to know the history. Most of our players aren't. You'd have to explain it to them probably, for sure. I'm not sure that they'd be that interested because their focus is on other things and really our focus is on the game. We're playing their team. I don't think they're thinking about that. I doubt that they have any concern about it whatsoever. The concern is the game that's going to be played Saturday night." .. Unlike New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, who has given his players a schedule dating all the way through the Super Bowl to a victory parade afterward, Harbaugh said that his schedule only goes through this week. … This game marks the first time Yanda has played in Indianapolis since tearing his anterior cruciate, medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments last year at Lucas Oil Stadium. Yanda regained his starting job in November and has been blocking exceptionally well since getting back on the field. "I guess there's some irony to that," Harbaugh said. "It's a credit to Marshal Yanda, what he's done, how well he's playing. He was playing really well at that time, but I think he's playing much better now than he even was at that time. To be able to improve through a multiple-ligament knee injury is just the kind of guy he is." … Special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said that embattled long snapper Matt Katula, who has struggled lately due to tendinitis in his snapping elbow, has had a strong week. "He's had a very good week of practice," Rosburg said. "He's been accurate, he's feeling good and I'm confident he'll play well again this week."

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