Ravens notebook: Starters rest

ST. LOUIS – The Baltimore Ravens sent a skeleton crew out onto the football field Thursday night to wrap up the preseason, taking understandable precautions by resting every starter to avoid potential injuries to key personnel.

The Ravens had quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Ray Rice, wide receiver Derrick Mason, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, middle linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Fabian Washington and several other starters warm up at Edward Jones Dome before being given the night off. It was a diverse lineup of selected veterans and rookies as the Ravens concluded the preseason against the St. Louis Rams.

Offensively, the Ravens started former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith at quarterback. The rest of the starters for Baltimore: wide receivers Demetrius Williams, Marcus Smith and Justin Harper, left tackle Ramon Harewood, left guard Joe Reitz, center Bryan Mattison, right guard Stefan Rodgers, right tackle Devin Tyler, tight end Devin Tyler and running back Jalen Parmele.

Williams played despite a sprained right ankle that sidelined him during practice for the majority of the week.

Smith, who's accustomed to the atmosphere of big games having played in the annual Michigan-Ohio State game, downplayed any comparisons of this preseason contest to a high-stakes college road game.

"Oh, no, no, no," Smith said. "The reason I say that is because the buildup for those types of games is annual. They wait 365 days to build up for the next game.

"With this being a preseason game, it's so important to so many guys trying to make the team, myself included. We just handle it, these types of settings. Being in and playing in the NFL is something totally different than any type of collegiate ball anywhere."

Defensively, the Ravens' starting defensive line consisted of Paul Kruger, Brandon McKinney and Kelly Talavou with Prescott Burgess and Antwan Barnes at outside linebacker, Jason Phillips and Dannell Ellerbe at inside linebacker, Haruki Nakamura and Ken Hamlin at safety and Travis Fisher and Cary Williams at cornerback.

Several players were injured and ruled out of the game, including wide receivers Mark Clayton (concussion) and Donte' Stallworth (concussion), offensive tackles Oniel Cousins (concussion) and Jared Gaither (thoracic disc injury), cornerbacks Washington (bruised ribs) and Lardarius Webb (knee), free safety Tom Zbikowski (bruised thigh), center David Hale (bruised tailbone) and nose guard Terrence Cody (arthroscopic knee surgery).

Zbikowski went through warmup drills and said he'll return to practice today.

"It actually felt pretty good," he said. "No problems. It was a little sore. I ran around and it did pretty good. I took it slow and made sure it's all right. I'll be back at practice and get ready to roll."

JOSH WILSON MAKES THE TRIP: Newly-acquired Ravens cornerback Josh Wilson is getting up to speed fast on the playbook, a crash course assisted by injured starter Domonique Foxworth.

Foxworth is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Just as he did when the two played together at the University of Maryland, Foxworth is mentoring Wilson.

"They hope me to get in there and learn the system as quick as I can," said Wilson, who made the trip to St. Louis but didn't play in the game. "I'm all about getting going. I don't have much time I need to do it in record fashion. As soon as I get there, Domonique is going to talk me through everything.

"When I was a young guy at Maryland, he led me the right way and gave me the assistance I needed. Hopefully, I can lean on him again and he already said he would help me out. This gives me enough time to know what I need to know to perform at a high level."

Wilson was acquired from the Seattle Seahawks earlier this week with Baltimore trading a conditional fifth-round draft pick that could become a fourth-rounder if he starts a certain amount of games.

Wilson has intercepted six passes in 24 starts since being drafted in the second round by Seattle three years ago.

"Oh man, I'm excited, I'm ready to go," Wilson said. "I get to go back, right down the street. It's a comfort zone. I couldn't be happier. "It's a great situation: great team, great defense, great opportunity. As a player, you couldn't write your own story any better. With the Ravens, you can compete for a championship." Wilson, 25, is undersized at 5-foot-9, 192 pounds, but has a reputation for speed. The Upper Marlboro native ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds at the 2007 NFL scouting combine. "I'm going to bring whatever they need me to bring and do it full speed and the way they want me to do it," Wilson said. "I'm going to bring my aggressiveness, playmaking ability and love for the game. They hope to get me in there and learn the system as quick as I can. I don't have much time. I need to do it in record fashion. .. "This is one of the best opportunities you dream about. Seattle is kind of in transition. They've had a couple of bad years. They've got to turn this program around whereas the Ravens have been in the playoffs and are competing for championships. It's a great situation."

SUSPENSION STARTING FOR WILLIAMS: For cornerback Cary Williams, this marked his final game prior to beginning his two-game suspension for violating the NFL personal conduct policy. Williams' punishment stems from an off-field issue where he wasn't arrested, according to his agent, during his time with the Tennessee Titans. "It is what it is," said Williams, who was beaten for a 36-yard completion to set up a touchdown as well as being penalized for pass interference. "I look at it as I'm going to have two weeks off, and I'm going to continue to work hard and get better every day."

Under NFL rules, Williams is banned from the Ravens' training complex during the suspension. "Nine times out of 10, I'll be working out somewhere in the Baltimore region during that time," Williams said. "I can't have any contact with the team until the third week of the season. I'll definitely make the best use of my time and stay in shape."

BULGER RETURNS TO ST. LOUIS: Ravens backup quarterback Marc Bulger didn't play in his return to St. Louis, where he made it to the Pro Bowl twice and also had two playoff appearances in nine seasons.

Cut by the Rams this spring, Bulger signed a one-year, $3.8 million contract with Baltimore. "It was fun," Bulger said. "I got to see a lot of people I haven't seen in about six months. The atmosphere is a little different in preseason, but it was nice to see everyone and say hello all at once."

Bulger said he didn't lobby for playing time. "No, we focused on the Jets early in the week and then they were kind of playing it by ear," he said. "They made the decision on Wednesday and I was onboard with it."

R. LEWIS NOT BUYING INTO ‘ENHANCED SEASON': Ravens All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis recently voiced his opposition to NFL owners' proposed 18-game regular season. The owners' so-called enhanced season would undoubtedly make a lot of money. The issue was discussed recently at an NFL owners meeting in Atlanta, but hasn't been voted upon yet. The NFL Players Association has serious reservations about the proposal. However, Lewis is of the opinion that it's not a good idea for players' health.

"Sixteen games are enough,'' Lewis said. "I mean, you're talking to someone who has been in this business for 15 years. We're not automobiles. We're not machines. We're humans."

Lewis emphasized that injuries would increase and players would be worn out by the time the postseason started.

"After the first three or four months, your body feels a certain way,'' Lewis said. "I don't care what type of shape you're in, I don't care what you're trying to do treatment-wise. You get to a certain point where you get to Week 15 or Week 16, you're saying 'OK, I've got to get my mind set for the playoffs' and you're talking about 18 games?

"Eighteen games, you got to ask yourself, how many people are truly healthy for 18 games, so will you get your true football, will you get your real football? Yeah, you're going to get the real football for whoever's protected, but I think it's a lot of football and I think if fans understood what we actually go through to play in December and January, I think a lot more people would fight with us that, I don't think it's knowledgeable to make us play 18 games. It's rough."

Would an 18-game season affect Lewis' decision on whether to keep playing?

"I don't really think it's about me, per se, realistically about that decision, because you're talking about hopefully we get some type of deal in place before you miss all of camps and all of those things," Lewis said. "So, honestly I hate to say this, but that helps players, really sitting down and getting away from it. "I think everybody should take a step back and see how much, if we just sat down and really tried to work together, that we could come up and work something out. But, as far as my thing on coming back or not, I've got too much football left for me to worry about Monday night [at the Jets] to be thinking about next year. That's a lot."

RAVENS FIFTH ON BODOG ODDS: The Ravens have been installed as an 11-1 shot to win the Super Bowl by Bodog.com.

They rank fifth in the NFL behind the Indianapolis Colts (17-2), Dallas Cowboys (9-1), Green Bay Packers (10-1) and the New Orleans Saints (10-1).

The Ravens are 5-4 favorites to the win the AFC North crown and 11-2 to win the AFC championship.

QUICK HITS: Washington had his anterior cruciate ligament surgically repaired after tearing up his knee last season. And he says he has no reservations about playing on artificial turf surfaces.

"That first preseason game I was a little nervous about playing turf, but I went out last week on our turf and it felt great," Washington said. "I didn't have any lingering effects the next day. I'm pretty comfortable playing on turf." … Cousins said his concussion symptoms continue to improve. "I'm feeling better," he said. "I'm ready for the Jets. I'm ready for the real thing." … Free safety Haruki Nakamura, linebacker Tavares Gooden and Smith were the game captains. … Jameel McClain appears to have won the inside linebacker job as he wasn't even asked to play in the preseason finale.


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