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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Since it remains unclear when two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Ray Lewis will return from an aching back, former practice squad member Dennis Haley is the Baltimore Ravensâ€™ primary option at middle linebacker.
Ravens coach Brian Billick indicated Monday that it’s uncertain when Lewis will recover from a severely bruised back incurred in a collision with safety Ed Reed on Nov. 5 against the Cincinnati Bengals, but didnâ€™t rule Lewis out for Sundayâ€™s game against the Atlanta Falcons.
Swelling, soreness and a lack of mobility kept Lewis out of a 27-26 win over the Tennessee Titans after missing an entire week of practice.
â€œTheyâ€™ve got to break that pool of blood thatâ€™s moving around his back and down in whatever way they can,â€ Billick said. â€œAs I understand it, once thatâ€™s released, then he should be fine. Until then, itâ€™s very stiff and sore. Weâ€™ll have to see Wednesday how far along itâ€™s come.â€
However, Lewis isnâ€™t the only injury concern at linebacker. Mike Smith, Lewisâ€™ replacement, was in for just five plays Sunday before he partially dislocated his shoulder, an injury that could keep him sidelined for several weeks.
â€œMikeâ€™s shoulder will take a while,â€ Billick said. â€œHeâ€™s clearly the most serious of the injuries.â€
Haley registered nine tackles, the second-most on the team while holding down a special-teams role. After spending the majority of the season on the practice squad, it was an eye-opening debut that drew praise.
â€œI compliment him for that,â€ Billick said. â€œHe really played quite well.â€
The Ravens donâ€™t have many other choices at middle linebacker, but have been working reserve outside linebacker Jarret Johnson inside. So, Haley would make his first career NFL start if Lewis misses his second game in a row.
â€œRight now, thatâ€™s kind of the only option,â€ Billick said.
Billick said that running back Musa Smith, who suffered what he called a â€œshock to the spinal system," that forced him to be carted off the field, is moving around normally and could be available against Atlanta. X-rays were ruled negative.
â€œMy confidence was to see him move his head around right away,â€ Billick said. â€œHe got on the plane and I said, â€˜Musa, at least limp or something because you look fine.’ It was a very scary moment, but he appears ready to go.â€
LOSS OF POISE: The Ravens were flagged for four unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, including one on Billick for arguing with officials and another on cornerback Chris McAlister for delivering a head-butt that resembled a pro wrestling maneuver.
â€œItâ€™s an emotional game, I kind of lost my cool in case you all didnâ€™t notice,â€ Billick said. â€œYou have to make sure you donâ€™t cross that line. The thing I liked about it is he kind of reeled himself back in.â€
COVERAGE BREAKDOWN: Although he didnâ€™t allow a touchdown, cornerback Samari Rolle had his issues matching the footwork of wide receiver Drew Bennett. Bennett caught six passes for 115 yards and spun Rolle completely around on a few crisp routes.
â€œDrew knows me and knows how I cover,â€ Rolle said of his former teammate. â€œHe made some good moves and has a way of getting himself open and making the catch. But the bottom line is we won the game.â€
CLUTCH HOLD: Rookie punter Sam Koch had one of the more unrecognized and critical plays that impacted the outcome. Koch corralled long snapper Matt Katulaâ€™s uncharacteristically high, errant snap and got it placed for kicker Matt Stoverâ€™s game-deciding extra point following Steve McNairâ€™s touchdown pass to Derrick Mason.
â€œSam continues to be a real professional in that area,â€ Billick said. â€œHow big would it be for us to have a simple PAT and for it not to happen? Sam did a great job."
QUICK HITS: Rookie wide receiver Demetrius Williams posted career-highs with four receptions for 75 yards with three of his catches producing first downs. â€¦ Nickel back Corey Ivy suffered a concussion, but returned as did tight end Todd Heap (ankle) and outside linebacker Adalius Thomas (thumb). â€¦ Backup quarterback Kyle Boller pretended to be mobile Titans rookie quarterback Vince Young against the Ravensâ€™ defense in practice last week. This week, he’ll be impersonating Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. â€œIt was nice warmup playing Vince Young because he and Michael Vick truly have unique abilities for this game,â€ Billick said.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland