OWINGS MILLS — As he returned to practice for the first time in weeks, Ray Lewis was greeted by a slow clap from his teammates and joking from rambunctious outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.
The Baltimore Ravens’ All-Pro middle linebacker has missed the past four games with a right turf toe injury suffered against the Seattle Seahawks and is expected to play Sunday night against the San Diego Chargers.
"Whenever he does return, we’re going to be back to a really great defense," Suggs said. "We get him back in there, we get the greatest player to ever play this football game."
Lewis was listed as practicing on a limited basis before the Ravens’ Thanksgiving game against the San Francisco 49ers, but didn’t actually do much on the field during an abbreviated work week. He was limited again Wednesday.
Prior to practice Wednesday, Ravens coach John Harbaugh indicated that Lewis wouldn’t necessarily have to practice to be allowed to play Sunday night.
"Ray’s different probably than most guys," Harbaugh said. "I think Ray could go out there and play without practicing. If he didn’t practice, he could play on Sunday."
With the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year sidelined for the past month, the Ravens have gone undefeated in four games.
And the defense has thrived despite his absence, allowing only 12.5 points per contest, recording nine sacks against the 49ers and shutting down running backs Frank Gore, Peyton Hillis and Joseph Addai.
“Whenever it’s time for me get back on the field, I’m definitely going to get back on there,” Lewis said Tuesday during his annual holiday charity event. “I’m feeling way better, I’m feeling way better. And that’s exciting news I thought I had a good chance the last four weeks to play, but the coaches are always going to make those decisions. I don’t mind being smart. The warrior side of me, of course, is always going to want to get back out there.”
During Lewis’ absence, inside linebackers Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe have contributed to the defense allowing just six, 10 and 10 points over the past three games.
After faltering against the Cincinnati Bengals and giving up 24 points in Lewis’ first game after the injury, the Ravens have allowed just 170, 223 and 167 yards against the 49ers, Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts.
"McClain and Ellerbe definitely stepped up for us and did a great job," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. "When Ray Lewis comes back, I think you’ll see some of that excitement and leadership come back and that fire. It will be good for us."