OWINGS MILLS – Ray Rice is primed to reassume his featured role in the Baltimore Ravens’ backfield.
The Pro Bowl running back is slated to start Sunday against the Denver Broncos after being utilized on a limited basis against the Pittsburgh Steelers due to a bruised right knee.
He wound up rushing for just 20 yards on eight carries.
“It feels good to be back in the full rotation of things,” Rice said. “My knee feels much better. I’m going out there trying to make plays. I’m not trying to do anything special. I just want to be myself.”
Rice has rushed 230 yards on 30 carries, a 3.8 average per carry with no touchdowns. He has caught 11 passes for 74 yards.
Those are much smaller numbers than last season when he emerged as an all-star, all-purpose back with over 2,000 yards from scrimmage.
Currently, Rice is ranked 11th in the AFC in rushing yards and 19th overall in the league.
The Ravens have emphasized the pass more this season with quarterback Joe Flacco.
“I’m not worried about the rushing yards because we’re winning,” Rice said. “I’ll trade stats for wins. We’re not going to try to force the ball down the teeth of the defense. Joe is playing well, the receivers are playing well and the backs are blocking well.”
The Broncos have a stout run defense.
They shut down Tennessee Titans star runner Chris Johnson last week, holding him to 53 yards on 19 carries.
“We’re just trying to win as a team. I don’t see myself as a decoy, but I’m sure when I’m in the game they have to defend it. Sometimes, that’s doing your job. That’s the stuff that really don’t get talked about.”
AUDIBLES OVERRATED?: Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron downplayed the necessity to call audibles.
While acknowledging that Flacco is allowed to change plays, Cameron made the point that the Ravens rarely do so.
"First of all, don’t believe anything I’m going to tell you," Cameron said. "We understand that? The bottom line is we don’t audible now nearly as much as we did as a rookie. That may be true. But there’s no chance that I’m telling you."
When Cameron was asked if Flacco has been granted more freedom to call audibles and change plays at the line than when he was a rookie, he made it clear that the Ravens usually stick with the play called in the huddle.
"Audibling is overrated," Cameron said. "It’s good to talk about and I could sit here and let you guys think that we do all of this audibling and how clever we are. It depends on the way teams are playing you.
"The way the teams are playing us is calling a play, making sure everybody knows what that play is and executing that play. However, we have the potential to audible every play if we choose."
Cameron said that he doesn’t have much use for audibling in general.
"I’ll put it to you this way, and this is fair: With Joe Flacco, we audibled a ton with him as a rookie," Cameron said. "Over half the time. We could, if we choose to, audible with him every down. But if it doesn’t fit who you’re playing, then why do it?"
INJURY UPDATES: Starting cornerback Fabian Washington didn’t practice Thursday due to an illness, but is expected to play Sunday.
The Ravens have ruled out offensive tackle Jared Gaither (thoracic disc injury), wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth (broken left foot), defensive end Paul Kruger (left medial collateral ligament)) and linebacker Tavares Gooden (dislocated left shoulder).
Outside linebacker Edgar Jones (bruised thigh) was limited again.
Rice, tight end Todd Heap (shoulder) and fullback Le’Ron McClain (right shoulder) participated fully. McClain is off-limits to contact.
Meanwhile, Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno was downgraded to not practicing after being limited Wednesday with a hamstring injury.
Nose guard Jamal Williams didn’t practice for non-injury reasons.
Cornerback Andre Goodman (quadriceps) and linebacker Wesley Woodyard (hamstring) again.
The Broncos removed cornerback Champ Bailey from the injury report. He didn’t practice Wednesday for non-injury reasons.
AYANBADEJO GETTING HEALTHY: Ravens special-teams ace and inside linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo is itching to get off the physically unable to perform list.
Sidelined since tearing his quadriceps tendon off his left knee last October against the New England Patriots, Ayanbadejo expressed confidence that he’ll be ready to return in the seventh week of the season.
“I feel good,” said Ayanbadejo, who had surgery to repair the damage suffered on a routine sideline play. “I know I can play. I don’t know what level I can play at. I’m more worried about how long the recovery will take after I do play. Right now, I can’t even tell that I got hurt as far as how the leg feels.
“Based on the way I’m training, I think I’ll be fine. I’m not sore the next day. There’s no way to mimic a game. In Week 7, I’ll practice and we’ll see what I can do and can’t do. The bye week will give me another week of healing.”
It’s unclear how the Ravens will use Ayanbadejo when he returns. He played special teams and as a defensive reserve before the injury.
“I don’t know what my role is going to be, but it probably won’t be as extensive as last year,” Ayanbadejo said. “I’ll have to scale back some. I know I can’t wait to get out there, whatever they have me doing.
“I’ve missed 17 games as of this week going back to last year. You’re talking about a guy who had never missed a game or rarely missed a play in his whole career before this happened.”
STALLWORTH ON SCHEDULE: Wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth is confident that he’ll be able to rejoin the team on the field by the bye week after breaking his foot during the preseason.
He has started doing some light jogging on the treadmill with 50 percent of his body weight being applied.
“I think I’m on track,” Stallworth said. “It’s going pretty good. I’m just going through the incremental phase of getting back on my feet. Everything is going well. There’s been no pain and I’ve been pushing it pretty hard. I want to see how far I can go.”
The Ravens’ first game back after their bye is Nov. 7 against the Miami Dolphins.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that I’m going to be ready,” Stallworth said. “The initial prognosis from the doctors when it first happened was for me to possibly be back by the bye week. That’s been the goal I’ve been shooting for. I’m actually right on track, if not ahead of that right now.”
Stallworth has been working his way back a little bit at a time.
“Things will be phased in incrementally, with me being able to start off with jogging and putting more pressure on it and then eventually running and cutting. As for where I am right now, I feel good and I feel like I’m making progress.”
A special treadmill has accelerated his recovery.
“You can specify what percentage of your body weight you want on there, and I’ve been going at 50 percent, going at a really high speed,” Stallworth said. “As time goes on, we’re going to work that up, and then eventually transfer from the training room to on the field activities.”
Stallworth has had to overcome his fear of needles to use acupuncture treatment on the recommendation of New Orleans Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey.
“Terrifying. It’s terrifying,” Stallworth said. “I’m afraid of needles. I hate ‘em, but it’s something I’ve got to do. Something that I’m not happy with, but if it’s going to help me get back on the field faster, then I’ll do it.
“I’ve been feeling pretty confident about the way that’s been going, and also, I’ve been doing some oxygen chamber treatments. I think that everything I’ve been doing has been helping me out, so I’m looking forward to possibly getting back out there as soon as I can.”
Stallworth could provide a deep threat to the Ravens’ offense when he returns.
However, he’ll have to battle for playing time behind Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
“I’ve always been told never worry about things you can’t control,” Stallworth said. “My main focus right now is just making sure that I can get back and when I am back, being as healthy as I can to help this team with whatever they need me.
“Going down the field, being a deep threat, whatever else they need me to do, I’ll try to make sure that when I’m back, I can do that and do it to the best of my abilities.”
BIRK READY TO GO: Ravens center Matt Birk is a six-time Pro Bowl selection in his 13th NFL season.
He’s feeling the effects of those years and the constant pounding with heavy nose guards, dealing with shoulder and neck injuries.
The Ravens tried out three centers this week, including Jake Grove, Brett Romberg and Nick Leckey.
Birk isn’t listed on the injury report, but that doesn’t mean he’s not feeling some pain.
"I feel good," Birk said. "I’m practicing. I’m playing. When you’re a young player, you hurt too. It’s a physical game. I think as you get older, maybe you get a little more used to it.
“A lot of it is just state of mind. You realize you’re going to have bumps and bruises. If you play a long time, it’s just mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter."
CONTAINING NGATA: Containing Ravens Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata ranks high on the Broncos’ list of priorities.
Ngata has recorded 26 tackles, including 19 solos and two sacks. He ranks second on the team behind All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis in tackles and a half-sack behind outside linebacker Terrell Suggs in sacks.
“Ngata is playing as good as any defensive lineman in football,” Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said. “There’s no question about it. We certainly have to be mindful of how we’re trying to handle him, how we’re trying to block him, not only in the running game, but in pass protection because he’s shown to be very disruptive in both phases of his game. So, he’s tremendously talented. Like I said, one of the best defensive linemen that we’re going to play all season, if not the best.”
MILLER RE-SIGNED: The Ravens have re-signed undrafted rookie cornerback and punt returner Prince Miller to the practice squad.
Miller was cut from the active roster on Tuesday to open a spot for offensive lineman Scott Kooistra.
Miller was signed off the New England Patriots’ practice squad, spending three weeks on the active roster and deactivated for every contest.
They have released cornerback Danny Gorrer to create a roster spot for Miller.
"Just back to work," Miller said. "It’s a decision that had to be made. When you’re in the position I was in, anything can happen. I’m going to continue working like I’ve been working.
"Maybe my name gets called sooner or later. I’ll just continue to work and go about my business like I’ve been doing. I’m just glad to be around here."
QUICK HITS: Ravens rookie nose guard Terrence “Mount” Cody said he graded out fairly well for his NFL debut against the Steelers despite getting an earful from coaches for missed assignments. “It went good,” he said. “I just had two mistakes. Even though I didn’t have too many snaps, I played pretty good. I had two minuses out of like nine plays.” … The Broncos have a big, strong front seven with the biggest being former All-Pro nose guard Jamal Williams, a 6-foot-3, 348-pounder. “They’re very powerful and explosive,” left guard Ben Grubbs said. “It will be a good matchup. They’re very agile and they look like they’re in shape. To be big guys, they run to the ball well.” … Broncos first-round wide receiver Demaryius Thomas was a prospect the Ravens had an eye on heading into the draft. He met with Baltimore at the NFL scouting combine. They also attended his private workout. Thomas has caught 11 passes for 149 yards and one touchdown. “Yes, we did like Demaryius Thomas a lot,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s a guy that we were looking at there possibly at our spot, and he got scooped up. He’s a big, physical guy. He’s a great guy. Really good hands. He’s definitely a vertical threat, definitely a threat to go up and get the ball in a one-on-one type deal. So, he’s coming on for them.” … Veteran Broncos safety Brian Dawkins is still playing at an extremely high level. He has recorded 19 tackles, one sack and two tackles for losses. “I have tremendous respect,” Cameron said. “I went against him when he was in Philly for years. I think he’s a great player. People look at their age on paper, but you really can’t do that. There are guys that defy chronological age, and he’s playing like he’s in his 20s, just like Champ Bailey. These guys play like they’re young, and that’s the important thing.” … Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is set to clash with Broncos offensive tackle Ryan Clady, a Pro Bowl selection who’s regarded as one of the best young blockers in the game. “He’s solid,” Suggs said. “I think he’s a better left tackle than what people give him credit. Going against Clady, he’s very strong as a point, very strong hands. So, I think he’s a solid left tackle. Definitely, we’ve got our hands full.”