OWINGS MILLS – Baltimore Ravens six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk practiced for the first time since having surgery on his left knee at the start of training camp, making it through without incident.
And the team is guardedly optimistic that he’ll be able to start against the Pittsburgh Steelers to open the season as Birk works his way back from having his bursa sac cleaned up.
However, the Ravens acknowledged that Birk may have to play through some discomfort this season.
“Matt was a situation where we just have to see where he is,” coach John Harbaugh said. “It takes a certain amount of time. First, we have to see if the surgery actually worked, if there’s going to be improvement, which, that’s a question mark. So, he may be battling this thing all year the same way he did last year.
“And then just seeing the way he can move the knee and then push it, and then the next day, how he comes back and recovers. Then, what he can do the next day? Obviously, we’re shooting for the opener and anything else we can get would be a bonus.”
Birk was upbeat following the practice.
“We’ll see how it responds, but for what I did out there, I felt really good,” Birk told a team employee. “I wasn’t thinking about it, which is a good thing. It got loose and stayed loose, so we’ll just kind of go from there. I dealt with it last year for the last couple of months, but with the surgery I think I got out in front of it a little bit.
“How it responds will dictate the course of action. I was happy with the way it went because I haven’t been out there doing a lot of running around. I was pleased.”
Sidelined for all three preseason games with Bryan Mattison starting in his place, Birk contemplated retirement during the offseason before being convinced to play one more year.
Now, the Ravens are hoping that Birk can solidify the middle of the offensive line.
“We’re going to find out,” offensive line coach Andy Moeller said. “It’s more of him getting back to banging and getting around in there and ready to go. As far as making the calls and doing all those things, he is well-versed and he has been in meetings. He has stayed on top of his game, so he will be ready just to see how it feels and just to see how his knee progresses.”
LEE EVANS SIDELINED: Veteran wide receiver Lee Evans’ left foot is in a walking boot and he didn’t practice Saturday.
The injury doesn’t seem particularly serious, though.
Evans was able to stand on one leg with his left foot supporting his weight, and he did several stretching exercises.
He didn’t complain of any injury following the Ravens’ 34-31 win over the Washington Redskins on Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium.
Evans caught a 35-yard touchdown against Washington.
Acquired in a trade from the Buffalo Bills, Evans was brought to Baltimore to provide a deep threat opposite former Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin.
He leads the Ravens with 128 receiving yards and caught three passes for 60 yards and a score against the Redskins.
STICKING UP FOR SMITH: In the wake of rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith dropping two passes against the Redskins an d finishing with one catch for six yards Thursday night, Harbaugh stuck up for the second-round draft pick from the University of Maryland.
Smith has only two receptions for eight yards this preseason.
“He’s making progress,” Harbaugh said.“Everybody has their own path. Everybody’s got their own issues you have to deal with. One guy, it’s route-running. Another guy, it’s whatever. And the catching-the-ball part of it, to me, if you start dwelling on that, then it makes it harder to do it. He can catch the ball.”
Smith attributed his problems to concentration issues.
“I’ve been a playmaker forever,” he said. “That hasn’t changed. It’s more trying to get in a groove and I’ve kind of been pressing. I’ve really been wanting to make a play. Everyone has been making plays around me, the whole receiving corps. I just got to be patient and let it come to me instead of pressing the issue.”
The worst drop was on a third-down route where he was all by himself.
“Obviously I can catch the ball,” Smith said. “I know I can catch the ball. It’s just a concentration issue. I’ve been practicing, wanting to make a play, wanting to make an impact instead of letting it come to me. I was wide open on one of them. I’ve got to get back to the basics and starting feeling like myself.”
Smith has also dropped passes in practices.
“He’s catching the ball well, too, in practice,” Harbaugh said. “He’s going to be fine. Just lay off the kid and let him develop and become the player that he’s going to be. It’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of time, and that’s the variable.
“I think we coach as hard as we can to try and get them ready, and we’ll just see where he’s at. Whatever playing time he gets will be reflected in how far along he is. Or there might be someone better than him in the opener, but he’s going to be a good player.”
YANDA RETURNS: Offensive guard Marshal Yanda practiced after being plagued recently by back spasms.
The Ravens were able to roll out their top offensive line from left tackle Bryant McKinnie to left guard Ben Grubbs, Birk at center, Yanda at right guard and Michael Oher at right tackle.
“I think it feels good right now,” Harbaugh said. “I think he’s worked real hard and he’s made great progress.”
Meanwhile, wide receiver James Hardy (hamstring) was able to practice for the first time in weeks.
Cornerback Chris Carr (hamstring) practiced and seems to be over the injury to his left leg.
TAYLOR THE BACKUP?: The Ravens aren’t opposed to having rookie Tyrod Taylor back up Joe Flacco.
They could go in that direction and carry just two quarterbacks on the roster since third quarterback Hunter Cantwell remains eligible for the practice squad.
“I would be confident that he would go in there and play well,” Harbaugh aid. “I’m never comfortable. I’m not comfortable with any of it. I think he can be the backup quarterback. Is he going to be the backup quarterback? We shall see.”
QUICK HITS: Harbaugh praised undrafted wide receiver LaQuan Williams, a former Maryland player who had a 38-yard punt return against the Redskins.
“He’s given us a good look, LaQuan has done a nice job,” Harbaugh said.
Williams still needs to continue to improve on special teams, though.
“I think he will, but I also think he’s not there yet,” Harbaugh said. “The fact that we haven’t been able to cover kicks in our preseason games is a problem, and it means that he’s not there yet as a kickoff cover guy and he’s not there yet as a gunner. So, he’s got a lot of work to do in that area, too. So, he’s a work in progress.” …
The Ravens are still waiting to see what undrafted rookie outside linebacker-defensive end Michael McAdoo can do after he recently joined the team after going undrafted in the supplemental draft.
Ruled ineligible last year due to academic violations, McAdoo hasn’t played football in a long time.
“It’s impossible for him to come in and contribute in any way,” Harbaugh said. “He hasn’t played football in two years. He’s just a young kid. They say he’s talented, so we’ll just kind of look at him and see how he does. I say that’s a flyer right now. It’ll be fun to see how it works out.”