OWINGS MILLS – Baltimore Ravens veteran wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth expressed optimism that he’ll be able to make his return Sunday against the Miami Dolphins roughly two months after breaking the fifth metatarsal in his left foot during the preseason.
However, Stallworth acknowledged that he’s not an absolute lock to play this week and said his foot was slightly sore after running pass patterns Monday.
"It will probably be a game-time decision," Stallworth said. "As of right now, it’s still going to be a little sore after practicing today. It’s a little sore right now. The main thing is making sure I get treatment on it and do what I’m supposed to be doing.
"[Monday] was my first real practice. I did a little bit last week, not too much. By the end of the week, I should be feeling pretty good and feeling good enough to play."
Stallworth has done a lot to get back into playing shape, including acupuncture treatments and using a hyperbaric chamber to accelerate the healing process.
"I feel good, but there’s no substitute for the real thing," Stallworth said. "I did a lot of conditioning, a lot of running sprints. As I found out, actually running routes and back-to-back routes, there’s no substitute. I’m feeling well enough to be able to make it through a practice and everything."
Injured during the third preseason game Aug. 28 against the New York Giants, Stallworth could potentially be used in a punt returner role.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said that the speedster looked good in practice Monday, adding that he won’t hesitate to utilize Stallworth on special teams if he’s healthy enough to play.
"You can get hurt doing anything, football-wise," Harbaugh said. "It’d be a matter of whether he’s ready to do it or not. He’d have to look good catching punts in practice in traffic. He’s done it before. He’s a good, solid punt catcher. As a matter of fact, he’s been catching punts for weeks out there.
Stallworth’s patience has been tested after not playing all of last season due to an NFL suspension and then missing the first seven games of the regular season with this injury.
"The main thing right now is trying to stay patient," Stallworth said. "I’m letting everything come to me to not be too aggressive and try to do too much out there. I’m doing what I’ve been coached to do and go out there and just play and have fun.
"I try not to think about it. I just try to focus on this season and really just have an understanding of an offense and try to take everything one day at a time and not try to think about it too much."
Stallworth said this was always his target for when he would be able to return.
"The good thing about having the bye week is that we had a Monday practice, so that gives me an extra day of work," said Stallworth. "Hopefully, by the end of the week, I’m feeling pretty good and good enough to be able to play."
VOLUNTEERING: Wide receiver Derrick Mason would love to return punts, lobbying the coaching staff to be given a shot at revitalizing a languishing unit. Mason was named to the Pro Bowl as a returner a decade ago when he was with the Tennessee Titans.
He led the NFL in punt return yardage and was second in kick return average.
Harbaugh said Mason definitely won’t be used against the Dolphins.
In general, it doesn’t sound like the Ravens are inclined to using Mason on special teams.
"I would say it’s an option," Harbaugh said. "He’s in my ear to do it, and that tells you what he’s all about. He’s probably not the first guy I’m going to think about putting out there.
"But if it turns out that he’s the best choice, we’re willing to do it. I’m not anticipating him for Miami. The fact that he wants to do it, I think, is kind of neat. It says a lot about Derrick."
Punt returner Tom Zbikowski is averaging just 6.3 yards per return. Due to a bruised right heel that sidelined him against the Buffalo Bills, Zbikowski was in a walking boot Monday.
Mason is also recovering from surgery last week to repair a broken pinkie finger on his right hand. He had a pin surgically inserted.
"Hopefully, it’ll be good for Sunday," Mason said. "I know it will, but if not we’ll just tape it up and go. It was something I needed. I couldn’t go the whole season without it, I played two games with it, so I figured the best time to get it fixed now was the bye week so I could get some extra days to rest and allow the swelling to go down."
Mason said he was able to catch a few passes since undergoing the procedure.
"I’ve got to adjust to it, but I’ve caught a few balls here and there," Mason said. "By Sunday I’ll be fine. Hopefully, the swelling will go down a little bit more and I’ll be able to go out there and be my old self and catch footballs."
Mason broke his finger against the New England Patriots, but hasn’t missed any playing time.
He said it hasn’t been overly painful.
"They give you things for that so you won’t feel the pain as much, but it’s kinda awkward when you’ve got your fingers taped up to catch a football," Mason said. "I’ve been doing it for the longest, so you’ve just gotta adjust. Adapt or die in this business, so I’m able to adapt and move on."
HEAP SET TO PLAY: Two-time Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap said he expects to play Sunday after suffering a shoulder stinger against the Bills prior to the bye week.
Heap also injured his neck on a helmet-to-helmet hit from New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather.
"It’s feeling a lot better," Heap said. "I got a lot of rest. I got a lot of treatment in. I’m feeling good right now and expect to be ready to go. You never want to have any injury to battle during the season.
"If you do, it’s a good time for a bye week. I think it’s a good time for a lot of us on this team to get a little rest and get a little treatment and get ready to go this week."
MOVING ON: Although cornerback Fabian Washington took repetitions with the starting defense Monday, he didn’t say if he’ll regain his starting job Sunday against the Dolphins.
Washington was benched in the fourth quarter against the Buffalo Bills and replaced by Josh Wilson after allowing three touchdown passes to wide receiver Lee Evans.
"I can say we’re all going to play," Washington said. "We’ve got some good corners, so we’re all going to play. I always work in with the ones. We’ll see Sunday."
Washington struggled with his technique in press coverage, missing jams at the line of scrimmage. He also missed several open-field tackles.
"I don’t know what to say about that performance," Washington said. "I watched the film like three times and was disgusted at myself. My technique was out of whack the whole game. I know what I did wrong, that’s the good thing.
"I’ve never had a performance like that in my life. It was hard to get over, but I’d say by midweek, I was over it, and I just got away from football completely."
DECISION TIME: The Ravens have to decide by next week if they want to activate running back Matt Lawrence from the physically unable to perform list. Recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament incurred last year, Lawrence is the final player remaining on the physically unable to perform list.
If he’s not activated by next week when a three-week window ends for players designated, he’ll be placed on injured reserve.
"We’re thinking about it right now, whether we want to do something right now or wait until next week, but we’ll looking at him real soon just to see how he holds up in a practice type of a setting," Harbaugh said. "It could be as early as Wednesday; it might be as late as next week."
A special-teams standout who recorded 16 tackles in kick coverage last season, Lawrence doesn’t know if he’ll get to play this season. None of the Ravens’ running backs are injured, making it less likely that he’ll be needed
"Really, it’s difficult," said Lawrence. "I’m not a get-frustrated type of guy. So, I just put my prayers with the Lord and let the chips fall where they may.
"I feel like I’ve been rehabbing and doing what I need to do. I’ve been training in the weight room. They’re working me real good."
Lawrence said he’s not concerned about the time factor that’s involved with the Ravens’ pending decision.
"I’m not worried about that timelines and all that stuff, rules," he said. "You can’t let stuff frustrate you. It’s not a frustrating thing. The clock is for my time to shine."