OWINGS MILLS – Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is officially listed as doubtful for Sunday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Suggs has been unable to practice all week and is regarded as a long shot to play.
The Ravens haven’t ruled Suggs out, but are preparing to start strongside linebacker Jarret Johnson again at Suggs’ rush linebacker spot with Jameel McClain slated to fill in for Johnson.
“I don’t know,” defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said when asked if he thinks Suggs will be able to play. “I know the organization, the football part of it, will never play anybody until he’s ready and that’s our belief.
“We also have great trust and confidence that Terrell Suggs is doing everything he can to get ready as fast as he can. That’s really out of his hands.”
Johnson registered nine tackles, including two for losses, during last week’s 17-15 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
He leads the Ravens with six sacks this season.
“Jarret Johnson is a tremendous football player,” Mattison said. “You could put him where you want him because he’s a football player. He goes out there, he gives it everything he has.
“He plays with great intensity, very physical. Jarret can play wherever you want him to play. He did a very good job of that.”
McClain started his first career game last week and recorded five tackles.
The former undrafted free agent from Syracuse made an impression on the coaching staff one year removed from recording a franchise-record two safeties as a rookie.
“Jameel did very well,” Mattison said. “He’s one of those guys that just keeps getting reps and keeps improving. His job was obviously to play the SAM linebacker position, which encompasses both pass drops and setting the edge to our defense.”
McClain has played all four linebacker positions over the past two seasons.
It’s unclear what McClain’s best spot is.
“I don’t know yet,” Mattison said. “He’s one of those guys that’s done such a great job of going in and playing the Mike and being very functional there, and then he’s gone to the Will linebacker and done a good job there.
“He’s a pretty good pass rusher, so he’s very valuable that way. If something happens you can always put him in there, and you’ve got confidence that he’s going to execute what you want him to do.”
INJURY UPDATE: Middle linebacker Ray Lewis and free safety Ed Reed are listed as questionable.
Both have foot injuries, and Reed also has an illness. Both are expected to play.
Reed didn’t practice Friday, but Lewis practiced on a limited basis as well as defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (sprained right ankle).
The following players are listed as probable: center Matt Birk (neck), Johnson (left shoulder), tight end Todd Heap (ribs), Ngata and tight end L.J. Smith (illness).
Meanwhile, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is reportedly having some second thoughts about whether he should play after suffering a concussion last week.
He’s listed as questionable, but practiced fully every day this week. This isn’t the first time that Roethlisberger has wavered on whether to play hurt, so this development may be much ado about nothing.
If Roethlisberger is on the field, he’s extremely difficult to sack because of his bulk and strength.
“They’ll come full speed to hit him and if you go high on him, his leg strength and his torso, is so strong that he just shrugs you off,” Mattison said. “When you get a chance to hit him, claw him. Do anything you can to get him down.
“Don’t go running in there and say you’re going to get the greatest hit in the world. Make sure you can get him down.”
The Steelers ruled out safety Troy Polamalu (knee), offensive guard Chris Kemoeatu (knee) and quarterback Charlie Batch (left wrist.).
Defensive end Travis Kirschke (calf) is questionable.
SAFETY FIRST: In the wake of Reed’s ill-advised lateral that he fumbled away last week, special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said he wants Reed to be more careful when returning punts.
“The play was quite unfortunate,” Rosburg said. “I know Ed feels the same way about that. We’d love to have that ball back, and so would Ed.
“We still want Ed making those plays, and we also want him to exercise better judgment in those situations. I have full faith and confidence that Ed will do that going forward.”
PUNT RETURNS INEFFECTIVE: The Ravens’ punt return game has foundered all season long, ranking 30th in the league with a 4.1 average per return.
Punt returner Chris Carr has called for 11 fair catches, an extremely high number.
He has returned only three punts over the past two games with a total of five fair catches. His longest return is 15 yards.
“Some of those balls you’d like to see him perhaps catch and run with it,” Rosburg said. “There are other balls that he’s taken that he made a decision to catch the ball and run that you might have asked to fair catch.
“That’s a returner’s prerogative. You put a guy back there, you trust his judgment. We have confidence in him. When you’re analyzing our punt return team, we haven’t had a lot of real good returnable balls.”
Opponents have a punting average of 42.5 yards with a net of 39.0 yards.
“We’ve had a lot of pooches,” Rosburg said. “The biggest thing in the punt return game is persistence. When the opportunity comes, you have to capitalize on it.
“It’s not like we haven’t had any returnable balls. We’ve had some that we haven’t really capitalized on for a variety of reasons. That’s what we need to do better going forward.”
QUICK HITS: Rookie cornerback Lardarius Webb said he’s ready to start if called upon. “I’m ready,” he said. “I’m prepared. I’ve been waiting for this day to come. This week, I’ll have a big role and I’ll show I deserve to be out there.” … Fullback Le’Ron McClain said he isn’t sure that new fullback Charles Ali’s arrival will increase the chances of him getting to run the ball as a tailback. “I’m just waiting for my chance,” he said. “I really don’t know if that’s part of the game plan for this week, or next week or the week after that.” … The Steelers rank last in the NFL in kickoff coverage, allowing four touchdowns this season. “What I’ve seen from the opponent standpoint is there are guys that just made some plays,” Rosburg said. “Some of those kicks were really good kicks and the guys squirrel around and get out of there. I know they’re working hard on it. Our job is just to do our job. We go into it every week with the idea that we’re going to try to score as well.” … Weighing in on why the Ravens have eliminated their version of the Wildcat offense from the game plan, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said that one reason is because the Ravens run it with backup quarterback Troy Smith, not a running back. The substitution of starter Joe Flacco isn’t something the Ravens are interested in.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.