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WESTMINSTER — Nine months after shredding his right knee, fullback Justin Green finally got the medical news he’s been awaiting.
The Baltimore Ravens cleared Green to play football again, activating him Monday morning from the physically unable to perform list after a successful rehabilitation from surgery to repair his anterior cruciate ligament.
Now that Green has returned to individual and special-teams drills in Westminster since passing his physical, the next step is getting accustomed to hitting again and resuming full-contact team drills. Green is trying to gain ground on rugged rookie fullback Le’Ron McClain in their competition for the starting job.
"I felt real good, but they want to slowly work me in," Green said following a practice at Bair Stadium. "The biggest thing I can ask for is to build on everything. I haven’t quite hit anybody yet, and we’ve got to take it step by step."
Green’s conditioning doesn’t appear to be a major issue. He has maintained his playing weight at 5-foot-11, 251 pounds, and the converted college tailback from Montana displayed no negative signs of structural issues with the knee Monday as he changed directions adeptly on kickoffs and punts.
The true litmus test will come later, when coaching staff and trainers eventually feel confident enough that they give Green the go-ahead to use his body as a battering ram against linebackers Ray Lewis and Co.
Green’s injury included damage to his patellar tendon. He has been working his way through scar tissue to regain his flexibility and explosiveness.
"I’ve been running for weeks, and I feel like I’m in pretty good shape," said Green, who injured his knee in late November last year against the Cincinnati Bengals on a rain-soaked night. "The biggest thing now is getting ready to hit somebody, that’s the key. I’m itching to go. I’ve been super-patient, but I can’t wait much longer. I’m ready for this."
Although the Ravens plan to emphasize more one-back formations to take advantage of new running back Willis McGahee’s versatility and integrate more wide receivers and tight ends into their version of the West Coast offense, apparently there’s still a role for the blocking fullback.
â€œYou still need someone to knock people down, that never stops in football," said McClain, a 6-foot, 260-pound fourth-round draft pick from Alabama. "Trust me, the fullback is still a part of this offense. We’ll get our shot to prove ourselves."
Green faces quite the challenge from McClain, a former Crimson Tide captain who helped Alabama average 123.1 rushing yards per contest last season and pile up a total 3,310 rushing yards during his junior and senior seasons.
Many scouts regarded McClain as the top pure blocking fullback in the draft, and he has opened eyes since his arrival at training camp. He halted Lewis in his tracks during a blocking drill and has several drawn comments about his baseball catcher’s stance in the backfield.
"Everybody has somebody to compete with, even if it’s just yourself mentally," said Green, who has started seven career games and caught 11 passes. "I’ve got a great rookie to compete with, and we’re going to have fun out there and help each other out. It’s friendly, you’re still part of a team.
"Don’t think I’m not taking notes on the things he does. Before he was here, I watched Ovie Mughelli and Alan Ricard. I’m doing the same thing with the young buck who knows what he’s doing at the fullback position."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.