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OWINGS MILLS — Chris Chester felt a special sense of urgency all week as he fired out of his stance and hit the blocking sled. The Baltimore Ravens might need the rookie offensive lineman to split time or start at right guard Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons because starter Keydrick Vincent is ailing with a groin injury he suffered during practice Thursday.
That fluid and uncertain medical situation could set the stage for Chesterâ€™s first NFL start after playing primarily on special teams in four games since being drafted in the second round out of Oklahoma in April.
â€œYouâ€™ve got to approach every week like itâ€™s going to be the week theyâ€™re going to need you,â€ Chester said. â€œThat way when itâ€™s actually your time, you wonâ€™t be surprised. I feel pretty confident, and Iâ€™m just trying to get cohesion with the other guys and make all of us better.
â€œKeydrick is a tough guy, so heâ€™s going to play if there’s any way he can. Itâ€™s hard for me to tell if he’s playing or not. Youâ€™re always anxious to play, but never under circumstances like this.â€
On his way to get treatment while gingerly walking through the locker room, Vincent indicated that he wasnâ€™t feeling great. However, he didnâ€™t offer a prediction on whether heâ€™ll play.
Ravens coach Brian Billick was noncommittal on whether Vincent would be available, but expressed confidence in Chester.
â€œHis time to step up, thatâ€™s what itâ€™s about,â€ Billick said. â€œWeâ€™ve thought a lot of Chris. Itâ€™s a great opportunity for him to step in and show what he can do.â€
At 6-foot-3 and 305 pounds, Chester is one of the most athletic lineman on the roster, covering 40 yards in 4.8 seconds at the scouting combine.
â€œIâ€™m just going to play hard, sell out for the team and play my best,â€ Chester said. â€œIâ€™ll try to use my athletic ability to help us in some situations.â€
TRAINING ROOM: The Ravens officially ruled out middle linebacker Ray Lewis after he underwent a minor surgical procedure to have a pocket of blood drained from his swollen back earlier this week.
The seven-time All-Pro will miss his second consecutive game since he severely bruised his back Nov. 5 when he collided with safety Ed Reed’s knee against the Cincinnati Bengals. Team officials are hopeful that this outpatient surgery will allow Lewis to play as soon as next week against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"Anytime you take a player of that caliber out, the next guy has to step in and we’ve got a number of different packages to account for it," Billick said. "I don’t know that you ever really replace a Ray Lewis, but we’ve got some guys in different packages we’re going to try.
"The other guys have to step up. You don’t have that comfort zone of always leaning on Ray on the inside. They have to make sure they pick up that leadership role as well."
Meanwhile, wide receiver Derrick Mason (calf) and nose guard Kelly Gregg (foot) were upgraded to probable and are expected to start.
Tight end Todd Heap (ankle) is questionable, but participated in practice Friday and is expected to start.
SCARY SITUATION: One week after being immobilized on a backboard and carted off the field in Tennessee with a neck injury, running back Musa Smith has apparently made a complete recovery and is slated to play Sunday.
â€œIt was scary, but I knew I was going to be all right and I could have walked off the field on my own,â€ Smith said. â€œThey wanted to take extra precautions. Iâ€™m good, though, no aftereffects, no soreness.â€
FAMILIAR SCHEME: Under offensive line guru Alex Gibbs, the Falconsâ€™ top-ranked running game uses a similar blocking scheme to the zone and cut-blocking techniques popularized by Gibbs when he was with the Denver Broncos.
â€œThey do a good job of getting people blocked and running the ball well, and you have to deal with Michael Vick back there,â€ Gregg said. â€œItâ€™s a lot to deal with. You have to stay on your feet and be strong in your technique.â€
QUICK HITS: With New York Giants running back Tiki Barber announcing his plans to retire after this season, a fellow member of the Class of 1997 has been fending off several questions about his future. Falcons running back Warrick Dunn, who has rushed for 761 yards, knows itâ€™s getting close to that time. â€œ"I don’t want to play for another five years, let’s just say that," Dunn said. â€œWhen my love for the game is done, then I’m done, and I don’t think I’m going to announce anything. I think I’ll just walk away." Despite standing just 5-9 and 180 pounds, Dunn has gained at least 1,100 yards and averaged 4.2 yards per carry for each of the past two seasons. â€œ"If you can make it in this league for 10 years playing running back, I don’t care who it is, you’ve done something," Dunn said. â€œYou were a good football player. Not a lot of guys can stay around as long as I have, so I’m blessed." … Ravens team president Dick Cass invited several injured soldiers and their caregivers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington to attend Fridayâ€™s practice. … The Ravens are holding their annual food drive Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., with all cash donations, canned goods, cereal, rice pasta going toward the Maryland Food Bank.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.