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OWINGS MILLS — Doomsday scenarios aside, coach Brian Billick remains confident in the Baltimore Ravensâ€™ depth at running back. Barring a season-ending injury to starter Jamal Lewis, the Ravens are optimistic that their running game will hold up for the stretch run.
â€œThe depth of the running back corps, we said was going to be important for us,â€ Billick said. â€œIt would have to be catastrophic for us to run out of running backs going into January, and thatâ€™s a good thing. Our depth at running back right now is a luxury that Iâ€™m not sure a lot of teams have.â€
Baltimore (10-3) is likely to get Musa Smith, Lewisâ€™ primary backup and the teamâ€™s second-leading rusher, back for a Dec. 24 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Heâ€™s forecast to miss his second consecutive game with a neck injury Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.
â€œWe could get Musa back by next week and that would be great,â€ Billick said.
Although Lewis has run hard and been more productive since Billick fired offensive coordinator Jim Fassel and installed himself as the play-caller, the running game remains 27th in the league and averages only 98.5 yards per contest.
â€œI think weâ€™re starting to get things cranked up,â€ Lewis said after rushing for 81 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries Sunday in a 20-10 win over the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
â€œWeâ€™re running downhill, and the defense is feeling what weâ€™re all about in the fourth quarter.â€
PRAISE FOR ROSS: Even though rookie running back Cory Ross fumbled a punt before pouncing on the loose football at the Ravensâ€™ 12 in his NFL debut and finished with three punt returns for minus-2 yards while averaging 25.5 yards per kickoff return, he got a vote of confidence from the coaching staff.
â€œI think he did very well,â€ Billick said of the replacement for B.J. Sams following his season-ending fractured ankle. â€œIt was very windy. For a first-time punt returner, thatâ€™s kind of a daunting task. For the first time out, he did very, very well.â€
Ross gets high marks for bravery, but his judgment appeared to be in question when he didnâ€™t signal for a fair catch and was twice hammered as soon as he caught the ball.
â€œI definitely took some chances,â€ Ross said. â€œI just wanted to feel and catch the ball.â€
TRAINING ROOM: The Ravens reported no significant injuries as ailments suffered by receiver Derrick Mason (thigh) and offensive tackle Adam Terry (back) arenâ€™t deemed to be serious.
Billick doesnâ€™t think itâ€™s a coincidence that he had two players suffer season-ending injuries during a Thursday night loss to the Cincinnati Bengals four days after a game, and that there were no major injuries when the team had 10 days prior to the Kansas City game.
â€œAbsolutely, absolutely, I wonâ€™t blame it on that, it may not be quantified, but absolutely, I will say it before and I will say it again, this league needs to take a serious look at putting teams on a short week on a consistent basis in the months of November and December,â€ Billick said. â€œThatâ€™s a safety issue.â€
Meanwhile, Billick said he didnâ€™t know if Sams will require surgery, stating he would have to check with trainer Bill Tessendorf.
QUICK HITS: Billick didnâ€™t have much of a reaction to becoming the all-time winningest Baltimore coach in NFL history following his 72nd regular-season win where he surpassed former Baltimore Colts coach Don Shula.
â€œDo I get anything for that? A dinner at Mortonâ€™s,â€ Billick said. â€œJust to have stuck around long enough to run up enough wins, theyâ€™ve had some great coaches here. My name and Don Shulaâ€™s in the same sentence usually has multiple other contexts.â€ â€¦ Billick thought that safety Ed Reed shouldnâ€™t have been ruled down by contact following his second interception Sunday. â€œI thought he never touched the ground,â€ Billick said. â€œI thought he was on top of the man, I donâ€™t think his knee ever hit. Thatâ€™s not reviewable because they had blown the ball dead.â€ â€¦ In response to a question about his decision to stay under a change-or-go mandate from owner Steve Bisciotti following last season, Billick quipped: â€œIâ€™m supremely confident I will remain the coach of the Baltimore Ravens this week. Outside of that, Iâ€™ll wait until after the season to find out what happens next.â€
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland