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OWINGS MILLS — David Pittman is keenly aware of the high personal stakes contained within Saturday night’s preseason game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field.
For the Baltimore Ravens’ second-year cornerback, this represents a rare opportunity to start as the entire organization is curious to find out if last year’s third-round draft pick can hold up under the pressure as part of the first-team defense.
With starter Samari Rolle out for the remainder of the preseason with a sprained ankle, the Ravens want to gauge the progress of a player who was a complete disappointment last year as a rookie.
"Basically, I want to show the team and the coaching staff that I’m able to be trusted," said Pittman, who was deactivated for every game last season after failing to win the nickel back job. "I want to show them that I can play within the defense and do what I’ve been coached to do.
"I’m real excited. It should be a great experience. I’m going to try to do what I’m coached to do and just have fun with it."
Pittman struggled last year to make the adjustment from being a Division I-AA star at little Northwestern State in Natchitoches, La., to an NFL rookie trying to fit in with a Pro Bowl-decorated secondary.
Despite his athleticism, Pittman was never called upon to play and drew lots of complaints about his practice habits and film study.
He was the lone draft pick to not contribute as four other rookies became starters and wide receiver Demetrius Williams emerged as a threat off the bench.
"It’s time," Ravens coach Brian Billick said of Pittman. "You know he had a pretty good camp, and it’s time to put him up with the big boys and see what he can do."
If this were a regular-season game, the start would have gone to nickel back Corey Ivy. However, the Ravens already know what Ivy is capable of.
In a 13-12 loss to the New York Giants, Pittman had a pass deflection. However, he was nearly flagged for pass interference while defending a deep ball. He has recorded three tackles in two games this month.
"David’s coming around," secondary coach Dennis Thurman said. "He had a tough beginning, but the guys hung in there with him. He’s very talented. He’s starting to get there."
Pittman intercepted 11 career passes in college and scored four touchdowns. He was the only Division I-AA defensive back invited to the prestigious Senior Bowl.
Now, it’s time to transform that potential into actual production.
"I think it’s just patience paying off," Pittman said. "Anytime you get a chance to showcase yourself, that pretty much plays to your favor."
INJURY UPDATE: Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata didn’t practice due to a swollen knee, and is unlikely to play Saturday. "It’s still tight and swollen," Ngata said. "I’m just waiting for the swelling to go down."
Added Billick: "We’re not going to put him at risk, certainly not now. If he can go and get the reps, great. If it’s better that he sit down, that will be for the trainers and doctors and Haloti to decide."
Running back Cory Ross missed practice due to an illness.
"Cory had influenza or something that kept him away," Billick said.
Also not practicing: running back P.J. Daniels (hamstring), tight end Daniel Wilcox (sprained left ankle), wide receiver Mark Clayton (sprained right ankle), Rolle (sprained right ankle) and offensive tackle Steve Edwards (knee). Plus, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden (turf toe) and linebackers Dan Cody (knee surgery) and Mike Smith (knee surgery) remain on the physically unable to perform list.
One positive sign for Clayton’s progress is that he’s already out of the walking boot and not limping terribly.
Daniels jogged laps during practice.
Nose guard Kelly Gregg is slated to play at least a few snaps against the Redskins, according to Billick. Gregg has missed the majority of the preseason with a knee injury that followed him being hit with a helmet in the thigh.
"It stinks having to sit out and watch the guys, but you’ve got to be smart in the preseason," Gregg said. "It feels great. It’s all tightened up, and I’m ready to go."
CONGRATULATIONS: Defensive tackle Atiyyah Ellison had a 9-pound, 3-ounce reason to miss practice Tuesday. He’s the proud father of a baby boy.
QUICK HITS: Billick wouldn’t be pinned down on how long he’ll play the starters Saturday, but said it could be anywhere from a quarter to the entire first half, tops. "We’re not going to take them into the second half," he said. Later, quarterback Steve McNair said the starter will play two quarters. … The Ravens don’t have to cut down to 75 players on the roster until Aug. 28. In the past, it was a limit of 65. "The 75 really helps us," Billick said. "When you have 65 guys and you put your starters down, that presses you a little bit. Having 75 makes a world of difference." … Count McNair among the players who welcomed breaking training camp and returning to the Ravens’ $35 million training complex. "Very much so," he said. "Five minutes from my house to here is good. I was driving 25 minutes. It’s good to be back here in this environment, especially getting into an everyday routine."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.