OWINGS MILLS – Jared Gaither remains in football limbo, uncertain if he’ll be a restricted free agent or an unrestricted free agent and awaiting word on whether the Baltimore Ravens want him back.
The towering offensive tackle spent all of last season on injured reserve due to a thoracic disc injury to his upper back, and he says he would prefer to remain with the Ravens.
"I have no control over that, and I just hope everything gets worked out," Gaither told Ravens24x7.com in a telephone interview. "However that works out, if they do tender me or don’t, there’s not that much I can do about that. I’m prepared for anything. You just don’t know what’s going to happen.
"It was an unfortunate injury. It kind of took me for a whirlwind. I’m really looking forward to the season. This was just another bump in the road. I hope I’m with the Baltimore Ravens and I’ll come back even stronger next year."
Gaither said he hasn’t spoken with team officials, but his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, recently spoke with general manager Ozzie Newsome about his status.
No contract negotiations were launched with the former University of Maryland lineman.
"I let Drew handle all of that for me," Gaither said. "I just hope they get the deal done. My focus has always been on being the best player I can be."
Should Gaither return, he wants to go back to his old left tackle position.
Last season, the Ravens installed Michael Oher as their left tackle and he struggled with penalties, including eight false starts, and had issues with speed rushers.
Gaither said it definitely matters to him where he lines up.
"Yeah, it does," Gaither said. "I’ve been playing left tackle my whole career. It wouldn’t make much sense to change now and get a whole new position underway at this point in time."
If Gaither is a restricted free agent, the Ravens could simply assign him a tender and own his rights for the 2011 season. Last year, Gaither was paid $2.396 million under a one-year restricted tender.
Both Newsome and coach John Harbaugh have said they’re receptive to the idea of bringing back Gaither.
"Right now, based on the 2010 rules, we can tender Gaither," Newsome said recently. "He could still be the property of the Baltimore Ravens and John and I want to keep as many good players as we can keep."
"I would probably have to defer to Ozzie on what it will take to bring Jared back as far as a price tag and all that, but I would like to coach Jared Gaither," Harbaugh said. "Obviously, he’s a very talented guy. There’s so many factors that would determine whether that can happen or not, I’m not even sure what they all are. He’s definitely got the ability."
Gaither made two trips to California during the season to visit noted back specialist Dr. Robert Watkins
While Gaither says he won’t need to have back surgery and has been conditionally cleared medically to play football again, he’ll still need to pass a physical to be allowed to play again.
"Basically, I’m cleared," Gaither said. "I just have to be cleared by the ballclub and take that physical, so, yeah, I’m doing a lot better. I’m feeling great. I can’t wait for next season. I’m blessed to be OK. I’m glad to be on the right track for redemption."
The 6-foot-9 blocker said he has resumed lifting weights and running and currently weighs 325 pounds.
He isn’t training at the Ravens’ training complex, though, preferring to work out with a personal trainer.
He remains wary of his back flaring up again after experiencing back spasms last August during training camp.
"The biggest thing was I let it calm down, so my back would settle down," Gaither said. "I’m not trying to aggravate it every week. That hasn’t been successful. I’ve got to trust and believe in it. I know everything will be fine and I’ll keep working at it."
There was a disconnect between Gaither and the organization during the offseason last year when he declined to report initially to the voluntary offseason training program before showing up after Harbaugh spoke out publicly about the situation and privately to Rosenhaus.
Then, Gaither suffered a bruised foot during minicamp after being moved to right tackle. There was a disagreement between the team and Gaither about the severity of the injury.
"That’s all in the past," Gaither said. "Everything is fine now. I love this organization. I love my teammates. This is where I want to play. I just hope I can come back and I’m waiting to hear what’s going to happen."