OWINGS MILLS – Baltimore Ravens six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk believes he’s on target to start the season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers after having his left knee surgically repaired to start training camp.
Birk has practiced without incident for two consecutive days and increased his workload to include team drills Monday.
“Why not? I think so,” Birk said when asked if he’ll be available for the Sept. 11 game. “Hopefully, you won’t have any setbacks. If everything progresses like we hope, yeah.”
Birk wasn’t certain if he’ll play Thursday night in the Ravens’ preseason finale against the Atlanta Falcons.
He smiled when asked if he thinks the surgery on his bursa sac was successful enough to where he won’t be bothered by pain throughout the season like last year.
“I’m not really in touch with my body," Birk said. “It feels good now, but who knows what is going to happen. It’s a long season. A lot of things happen. Hopefully, the worst is behind me.”
Birk had fun during the interview, especially when he was asked if he’s agile.
“Yeah, but that’s a relative word for me,” the Harvard graduate said. “I wouldn’t say I felt real agile before. It’s feeling good. It’s all about getting the work in and seeing how it holds up and how it responds, just take it day by day”
In all seriousness, Birk said the knee is holding up well.
“It feels pretty good, just starting slow and letting it build up and doing a little bit more every day and seeing how it responds," Birk said. “I just keep doing more every day. It’s responded well. I probably won’t know until well into the season, but that’s okay.
“Right now, it’s feeling good. I’m getting some work and getting back to football activity. So far, so good. We’ll go treat it and hopefully I’ll do a little bit more.”
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is impressed with how Birk is progressing.
“He looked good, and it’s early,”Cameron said. “You could stand here all day and talk about the great things about Matt Birk, how smart and tough he is. We need Matt Birk, and I’m thrilled to get him back.”
Meanwhile, Birk said he’s excited that the Ravens added Pro Bowl left tackle Bryant McKinnie, a former teammate with the Minnesota Vikings.
"It’s good to see Bryant," Birk said. "It’s funny how this thing works out. You never know what’s going to happen. Certainly, I was excited when I heard we signed him because I played with him for a long time and he’s a hell of a player."
EVANS EXPECTED BACK SOON: The Ravens don’t seem overly concerned about when wide receiver Lee Evans will return to practice.
Evans has been sidelined for the past two days of practice. He had a protective boot on his left foot Saturday, but was able to place all of his weight on it by standing on one foot, the left foot, during stretching exercises.
The injury isn’t regarded to be serious, but Evans missed time last season in Buffalo with a left ankle injury.
“He’s in meetings, and he’s bouncing around pretty good,” Cameron said of Evans, who leads the Ravens with 128 receiving yards in two preseason games. "I don’t know the exact timetable, but we would like to think he’s coming back pretty quick.”
SMITH NEEDED TO STEP UP: The Ravens had rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith run with the starters with Evans out, a positive indicator for the struggling second-round draft pick.
Smith dropped two passes against the Washington Redskins, catching just one pass for six yards.
“It is a process for guys,” Cameron said.“I know we all want things to be instant. We want guys to just jump right out of the blocks and dominate in the National Football League and go from there. It’s easier said than done.”
The Ravens are encouraged about Smith because of how hard he’s working.
Smith, though, has acknowledged that he’s pressing too much and not concentrating enough. And quarterback Joe Flacco said that the speedster is over thinking the game.
“He’s a great practice player, works extremely hard,” Cameron said. “Over the years, guys that approach things the way he’s approaching the game get better and improve. That’s our expectation for him, to get better and improve.
“He and Joe are spending some extra time together. He was in the building [Sunday], one of the few guys in the building. Those are all good signs. He’s got a bright, bright future.”
PLAN IN FLUX: The Ravens are still contemplating how much work they’ll give to Flacco and the first-string offensive line Thursday at the Georgia Dome.
Ideally, the Ravens would like to get McKinnie, left offensive aguard Ben Grubbs, Birk, right offensive guard Marshal Yanda and right tackle Michael Oher some game repetitions.
Cameron was noncommital when asked what the Ravens will do, but coach John Harbaugh said over the weekend that the team is weighing the risk of injury versus the reward of honing their timing.
"The most important thing for me is how we practice," he said Monday. "Going against our defense is, for the most part and in a lot of ways, better than any preseason game that we play. Now, with that being said, I think in the next couple days, we’re going to decide what is in our best interest.
“I think John’s got some feelings on that, but I think we’ve said, ‘Let’s just wait and see.’ We want everybody ready to play, and then I think we’ll make some kind of decision in the next couple of days.”
TAKING IT SLOW WITH FOXWORTH: One year after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and allowing a series of catches against the Redskins, cornerback Domonique Foxworth and the Ravens are maintaining a steady approach to his return.
“We’ve got to be smart with him as far as how we use him right now and how many reps we give him,” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “Hopefully, that will start to come around and eventually be 100 percent.”
Foxworth was frustrated by how his knee was responding at the start of training camp, but appears to be improving in terms of range of motion and speed.
Foxworth acknowledged that the NFL lockout affected his rehabilitation. The NFL Players Association executive committee member had to schedule his rehab work around negotiations, either rising early to get his work in or rehabbing at night when talks were over.
“The time away was obviously a major detriment to Fox,” Pagano said. “He’s just got to keep his nose to the grindstone and keep pushing.”
INJURY UPDATES: Cornerback Chris Carr (left hamstring), offensive guard Mark LeVoir (undisclosed) and running back Matt Lawrence (undisclosed) weren’t at practice during the part open to reporters.
Yanda, who has dealt with back spasms, and wide receiver James Hardy (hamstring) both practiced.
QUICK HITS: Cameron is encouraged by what he’s seen so far from McKinnie, who’s trying to get down from 370 pounds and ran with middle linebacker Ray Lewis and free safety Ed Reed after practice. “It’s exciting, just to have a big, physical, left tackle that can complement Michael Oher,” Cameron said. “I think he’s a proven player. He’s got to continue to work on his conditioning. I think he’s going to do everything he can to make this organization proud for bringing him here. I like his attitude, I like his approach. I don’t know how you get a player like that this late in the training camp, but we seem to find a way to get it done.” … Cameron said he doesn’t think that there’s much separation between Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, who are competing for the starting job at tight end. “They’re different,” he said. “I don’t know that they’re really going to separate each other. They’re going to work in unison. You’re going to see them both in the game in different packages. In my mind, we’ve got two starting tight ends, and each brings something unique to our offense. So, we’re going to utilize them both and I think we approach them both as starters.” … Pagano said that he still hasn’t made up his mind on who will start next to Ray Lewis at inside linebacker. The top candidates are Jameel McClain, Dannell Ellerbe, Brendon Ayanbadejo and Tavares Gooden. “Nothing is etched in stone right now,” Pagano said. “We feel like we’ve got a lot of guys who can go in and play next to Ray and play at a really high level, so that’s a comforting point for us. We’re all fighting and battling and we’ll see how this whole thing shakes out.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times