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OWINGS MILLS — The Baltimore Ravens’ precarious medical situation took a negative turn Friday as both starting cornerbacks could potentially be out Monday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Ravens were already anticipating not having Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister in uniform because of a lingering knee injury that kept him out of practice all week. He’s listed as doubtful on the official injury report.
Now, the Ravens are bracing for the possibility that former Pro Bowl cornerback Samari Rolle could miss Monday’s game because the undisclosed illness that kept him out for three games earlier this season has flared up again. Rolle is listed as questionable, meaning there’s a 50 percent chance of him playing.
It’s unclear if Rolle will be able to recover in time to play against the Steelers. He didn’t practice Friday and was unavailable for comment.
The illness briefly hospitalized him earlier this year, and an adverse reaction to the medication used to treat the illness made him sluggish and affected his coordination. Rolle said the illness caused temporary memory loss.
If both players are out, then Corey Ivy and Derrick Martin would start and have to contend with Pro Bowl wide receiver Hines Ward and speedster Santonio Holmes.
Ivy has started five games this season, intercepting one pass. Although Ivy has made some big plays this season, he struggled in pass coverage against wide receiver Lee Evans on deep routes in a 19-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Martin is a second-year defensive back who has intercepted one pass, appearing in relief in all seven games. He has supplanted Ronnie Prude and David Pittman in the pecking order behind the top three defensive backs.
If Rolle and McAlister are out, the Ravens would have a tough choice at nickel back between Ronnie Prude, who was exposed in single-coverage against the Arizona Cardinals, or David Pittman, a disappointing former third-round pick who has only been active for three games this season.
Meanwhile, tight end Todd Heap was extremely limited in practice even though he’s expected to play Monday. Heap, who’s listed as questionable, has been dealing with a strained hamstring for the past month and is expected to be a game-time decision.
"It’s up in the air right now," said Heap, who has missed two of the past three games since injuring his leg in a Sept. 30 loss to the Cleveland Browns.
Heap was held out of a win over the San Francisco 49ers, aggravating the injury against the St. Louis Rams and sitting out the Buffalo game.
"We’ll see, I have no idea how he’ll be Monday," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We’ll have to see on gameday."
CHALLENGED: Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Bruce Arians made a bold prediction, guaranteeing the Steelers’ top-ranked running game will be able to run the football against the Ravens’ second-ranked run defense.
Although running back Willie Parker was shut down last year and gained only a combined 51 yards on 23 carries in two games, Arians stood firm in his beliefs.
"We’re going to run the ball," Arians told Pittsburgh reporters.
When asked to clarify if he meant that the Steelers were going to try to run the ball, Arians replied: "Make no bones about that, we’re going to run the football. We took a pass-first mentality to Baltimore last year, and it backfired obviously."
The Steelers are averaging 159.1 rushing yards per contest, but rarely have been successful on the ground against Baltimore with just two 100-yard games — Jerome Bettis and Amos Zereoue — since the 2000 season.
Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan had a colorful rebuttal to Arians’ remarks.
"If he ran it himself, we would kick his [butt]," Ryan said. "We’ll find out when his team runs it and see what happens. Hey, it’s Pittsburgh. It’s about being physical, so bring it on and we’ll see who’s the most physical."
INJURY UPDATE: The Ravens ruled out tight end Daniel Wilcox (sprained toe).
Offensive tackle Jared Gaither was limited in practice and is listed as questionable after spraining his ankle.
"He rolled it a little bit," Billick said. "I think he’ll be okay."
Kicker Matt Stover didn’t practice Friday due to a sore right thigh, but is listed as probable and expected to play Monday.
Other probable listings included: quarterback Steve McNair (back, groin), defensive end Trevor Pryce (broken wrist, limited), center Mike Flynn (sprained knee), linebacker Antwan Barnes (thigh), tight end Quinn Sypniewski (knee) and offensive tackle Adam Terry (sprained ankle).
The Steelers ruled out safety Ryan Clark (spleen) and tight end Jerame Tuman (back).
Defensive end Aaron Smith (knee) didn’t practice and is listed as doubtful. Offensive guard Alan Faneca didn’t practice due to a back injury and is probable.
QUICK HITS: The Ravens signed rookie tight end Jake Nordin to the practice squad, cutting wide receiver Romby Bryant again. … Billick expressed sympathy for Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid’s family, which is dealing with the ongoing drug and legal problems of two of their older sons. Billick is a friend of Reid, and both coaches attended Brigham Young. "We all have personal lives and difficulties and trials and tribulations," Billick said. "The hard part is for it to have to be displayed in a public manner. Obviously, my heart goes out to Tammy and Andy. They’re very good friends of mine and I can certainly understand the difficulties they’re dealing with right now." … After practice, Ryan had the defensive players doing up-downs as punishment for jumping offsides. "That’s just a little thing that we’re doing," Ryan said. "If we’re jumping offsides or something like that, then we have to. Nobody wants to do them, even when you’re a kid. It’s ridiculous, but it still works." … The Ravens are concerned about Holmes, a vertical threat who has already caught four touchdowns and is averaging a team-high 16.4 yards per catch. "He’s an explosive receiver," Ryan said. "I think he’s similar to Lee Evans. I think he’s got a lot of ability. Obviously, he’s got great speed."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.