OWINGS MILLS – Following an offseason filled with legal drama and a training camp where he was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team, Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall is now being celebrated, not tolerated by the Denver Broncos.
Heading into Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium, Marshall leads the undefeated Broncos with 29 receptions for 332 yards and four touchdowns.
"Brandon has always been able to fit in," Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said during a conference call with Baltimore reporters. "I think that whole story was taken many times out of context. We know what the situation is and Brandon obviously knows where he’s at and what he’s doing in terms of this time in his career, and he’s playing well.
"He’s become a big part of our success, obviously. We’re going to continue to push him to get better and help us in any way that he can."
Since the 2007 season, Marshall is tied for third in the NFL with 23 receptions and ranks sixth in the league with 2,922 receiving yards.
"He’s Superman out there," Ravens cornerback Frank Walker said.
Marshall has emerged as a particularly dangerous player after the catch, especially on his dramatic, game-winning 51-yard touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys.
"He’s a big guy, and he’s pretty quick for his size," said cornerback Domonique Foxworth, a former Broncos third-round draft pick who will draw the assignment of containing Marshall. "He’s not afraid to run through people or around people.
"You’ve got to gang-tackle him and hold on tight. Nobody can run without their legs. You got to get him wrapped up and finish him off."
At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, the imposing receiver is much bigger, stronger and usually faster than opposing defensive backs.
"He’s definitely a man,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. They might have to line me up out there on him, maybe just to get a little jam. The kid has tremendous talent.
“His physical attributes are something of a video game. It’s not just on our secondary. It’s the whole defense’s responsibility to make sure he doesn’t have a great game."
Marshall caught 104 passes for 1,265 yards and six touchdowns last season, his second 100-reception season in a row.
"Marshall is an outstanding receiver," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "He’s got great size. The thing that Marshall has done a really good job of is when he catches the ball, that’s when he becomes dangerous.
"He’s like a tight end or a running back running with the football after he catches it. He’s very physical with the ball."
INJURY UPDATE: One day after participating fully in practice, offensive tackle Jared Gaither was downgraded on the injury report and didn’t practice Thursday.
He wore a red jersey, signifying that he’s off-limits to contact.
Gaither suffered a serious neck injury Oct. 4 against the New England Patriots where he was carted off the field and has missed the past two games.
Gaither has said he’s 100 percent certain that he’s going to play Sunday against the Broncos.
If Gaither can’t play, then rookie first-round pick Michael Oher would start again at left tackle with Marshal Yanda lining up in his place at right tackle.
Free safety Ed Reed (illness) returned to practice, participating fully.
Inside linebacker Tavares Gooden was limited due to a slight concussion that he suffered on Monday. He wore a red jersey, too.
"It was an issue I had going on, but it’s clearing up now," Gooden said. "It’s not even that serious. I got caught off-guard with my chin running through the gap and I got a little dizzy."
Quarterback Joe Flacco (sprained right ankle), linebacker Jarret Johnson (left shoulder), kicker Steve Hauschka (right ankle) and wide receiver David Tyree (hamstring) all participated fully.
Meanwhile, Broncos safety Brian Dawkins (hamstring) and nose guard Ronald Fields (hamstring) were limited.
TOUGH ASSIGNMENT: The Ravens’ special teams have their work cut out for them as they’ll square off with dangerous Broncos returner Eddie Royal.
In a win over the San Diego Chargers, Royal became the 11th player in NFL history to return a kickoff (93 yards) and a punt return (71 yards) for touchdowns in the same game.
"He knows how to be tough on returns," Ravens special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. "He can fall forward and get yards. He’s got quick feet and he’s fast.
"That sounds like a real simple formula, but some guys are quick and some guys are fast. He’s quick and he’s fast. He’s one of those guys that you have to look at in both phases and say, ‘He’s a threat in both.’"
REUNION: Last year, Walker got into a confrontation with Pittsburgh Steelers punter Mitch Berger.
Berger accused Walker of spitting in his mouth, which Walker denied ever happened.
Now, Berger is punting for the Broncos after being signed this week.
"I’m happy to see him," Walker said with a smile. "I’m happy he’s coming to town. No, there’s no hard feelings."
As for preparing for Berger, Rosburg said that the Ravens feel like they know him well after three games last season.
"Anytime there is change, you have to adjust when you see the game and see what the real picture is," Rosburg said. "So, there will be some conversations on the sidelines."
INCREASED WORK: The Ravens have been giving rookie cornerback Lardarius Webb increased work with the first-team defense.
"Every single time he goes in the ball game, he shows that he makes plays," Mattison said. "He’s gotten a lot more reps in practice with the first unit. I think his role will keep being expanded all the time."
However, Mattison indicated that the allotment of playing time hasn’t changed.
"We expect to have the same rotation," he said. "He’s been getting the same rotation in practice as he has all season long."
NOT AFRAID: Wide receiver Derrick Mason said he has no intentions of backing down to Broncos star cornerback Champ Bailey.
"You can’t be afraid to play your game," said Mason, a two-time Pro Bowl selection. "You can’t be afraid as a receiver to challenge him each play. If you don’t challenge him, then you limit yourself to half the field.
"So, you’ve just got to go out there and play your best game. You’ve got to bring your A game against him, because if you don’t he’s going to embarrass you.”
ON THE MEND: Special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo returned to the team’s training complex this week after undergoing season-ending surgery to repair his torn quadriceps.
"It’s a slow recovery, but I should be 100 percent once I recover completely," said Ayanbadejo, who remains on crutches. "There shouldn’t be any arthritis or anything. It’s slow going, seven or eight months.
“I should be back stronger than ever, hopefully. Everything is going good so far. Every day is better than the next."
Ayanbadejo said that he won’t require any follow-up procedures.
"So long as there’s no complications or I get too aggressive or damage the reconstruction, it should be fine," Ayanbadejo said. "I just have to make sure I don’t get too fast."
QUICK HITS: The Ravens are averaging just four yards per punt return with a long return of 15 yards from primary punt returner Chris Carr. There haven’t been very many opportunities to break a good return. "You have to be opportunistic, and that’s not something we’ve done very well, real frankly," Rosburg said. "I think we have a pretty good plan going forward. We’ve worked on the skills during practice. We, as coaches, looked at what we’re calling, where we’re calling it and how we’re scouting the opponents. We’re trying to make a move in that regard. We need to be more productive in that phase." … Without offering any specifics, Mattison said that the defense has made some changes during the bye week. "We saw a few things that we know we can improve on," he said. "We looked at everything we’re doing, when we’re doing it with who we’re doing it with and then made some adjustments. There were things that were very, very apparent. It was good for us to be able to see that because now we can move forward and make those adjustments." … Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton, who was acquired in the trade that sent Jay Cutler to Chicago, has been extremely careful with the football, throwing just one interception with nine touchdown passes for a 100.1 passer rating. The interception was on a Hail Mary pass, too. "He’s done a great job of timing," Mattison said. "He hasn’t forced them." Added Suggs: "He’s making a lot of good decisions. He’s proven that Denver got the best of the trade, and he’s just playing phenomenal. I think this is his breakout year." …The Ravens have just 14 sacks this season, so they have increased their amount of practice time spent on pass-rushing drills.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.