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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis returned to practice Friday from a severely bruised back that has kept him out of the past two games, and is likely to be a game-time decision Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The seven-time All-Pro is still listed as questionable on the injury report and was limited in team drills. His status is likely to hinge heavily upon how he feels during pregame warm-ups at M&T Bank Stadium.
"We’re progressing," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We’ll see on Sunday."
When asked if Lewis returning to practice was an encouraging development, Billick replied: "Sure it is."
A week ago, Lewis underwent a minor surgical procedure to drain a pocket of blood from his back. Lewis has been out since safety Ed Reed’s knee collided with his back Nov. 5 against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Earlier this week, Lewis told reporters that his back is still troubling him and that he wasnâ€™t certain if he would play against the Steelers.
â€œItâ€™s not settling down like I wish it would,â€ Lewis said. â€œItâ€™s still bothering me.â€
On Friday, Lewis was noncommittal on whether he would play, saying he didn’t know. The Ravens reported no changes to their injury report.
Tight end Todd Heap is questionable with a foot injury, but is expected to start. Offensive guard Keydrick Vincent (groin, questionable) was at practice, but wasn’t dressed out as he went through agility drills on his own at the start of practice. He’s likely to be a game-time decision.
If Vincent can’t play, he would be replaced at right guard by rookie Chris Chester for the second week in a row.
Tight end Daniel Wilcox (hamstring) is also listed as questionable. If he can’t go, he would be replaced by rookie Quinn Sypniewski.
PASSING QUANDARY: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger leads the NFL with 17 interceptions, which is problematic enough. Factor in that the Ravensâ€™ defense leads the league with 18 interceptions, and the star-crossed Pittsburgh signal caller would appear to be in trouble.
â€œItâ€™s not a good combination, is it,â€ Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. â€œThe one thing when I look at Baltimore is their defense is swarming. You have two Pro Bowl corners and you have arguably the best safety in the game in Ed Reed.
â€œYou canâ€™t go in there and be afraid to throw. I donâ€™t think you can go in there and be one-dimensional. You still have to have balance. Youâ€™re going to have to be smart and patient with how you approach this game.
QUICK HITS: Count Cowher among the NFL denizen who admires Ravens nose guard Kelly Gregg. â€œKelly Gregg may be one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the league,â€ he said. â€¦ Cowher has been the subject of massive speculation that he wonâ€™t return next season after his family moved to North Carolina prior to the season and failed to negotiate a contract extension with Steelers owner Dan Rooney. â€œHeâ€™s coaching the same way,â€ Steelers outside linebacker Joey Porter said. â€œWe still get a lashing when we mess up. Heâ€™s still coaching as hard as he ever did. When you have speculation like that and everything is not going as good as itâ€™s supposed to, then youâ€™re going to get something like this. Trust me, heâ€™s giving us everything heâ€™s got. I canâ€™t see him doing anything differently. If heâ€™s coaching football, it has to be here.â€ â€¦ Porter views his impending matchup with All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden as a major proving ground. Typically disdainful of opponents, Porter paid Ogden a hefty compliment. â€œItâ€™s the matchup I look for every year because I know that Iâ€™m going against the best in the game when Iâ€™m out there against Ogden,â€ Porter said. â€œI know heâ€™s not going to budge. Itâ€™s a great left tackle going against a guy thatâ€™s just trying to make a name for himself.â€ â€¦ The Steelers ruled out wide receiver Willie Reid with a foot injury. â€¦ Quarterback Steve McNair is 9-4 in 13 career starts against Pittsburgh with 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. â€¦ Despite the Steelersâ€™ struggles one season removed from winning the Super Bowl, the Ravensâ€™ scouts rate their talent as among the best in the NFL. â€œRecord notwithstanding, they are as good as we have faced,â€ said Billick in his best impersonation of former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz. â€œIâ€™m just going off the personnel rankings. This is the best personnel. This is the best team weâ€™ve faced all year long. Theyâ€™re healthy. Theyâ€™ve got strengths across the board. This is going to be a heck of a game.â€…Join the GAMETIME crew, Ravens mascot Poe, Ravens cheerleaders and other surprises at Della Rose’s Avenue Tavern in White Marsh prior to the Ravens @ the Bengals on Thursday Nov. 30 at 6:30PM. There will be authentic autographed memorabilia given away and there is a free sign up for a Toyota raffle — the prize being a brand new 2007 Yaris!
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland