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OWINGS MILLS — Baltimore Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister didn’t practice Friday, but coach Brian Billick expressed optimism that the Pro Bowl defensive back will be available Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.
McAlister has missed the past three games with a strained knee and is listed as questionable on the injury report.
"We’re resting him," Billick said. "He’s had two good, solid days and we’ll see what Sunday brings, but I’m optimistic."
Free safety Ed Reed returned to full participation in practice after sitting out Thursday and the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year is expected to start. Reed has a sore back, but is listed as probable.
The Ravens (4-5) will need the secondary to have a sound game plan against a potent Browns passing game led by former Baltimore quarterback Derek Anderson, who has thrown 14 of his career-high 20 touchdown passes to wide receiver Braylon Edwards and tight end Kellen Winslow. Starting cornerback Samari Rolle is out again with an undisclosed illness.
"They’ve got Kellen Winslow, probably the best tight end in the game," Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "They’ve got Braylon Edwards, who is having a Pro Bowl season.
"They’ve got a big back, [Jamal Lewis] I don’t remember his name. They have some weapons over there. I think they snuck under the radar the first time we played them."
INJURY UPDATE: Billick all but ruled out tight end Todd Heap, who didn’t practice all week due to a strained hamstring and is listed as questionable.
"Doubtful," Billick replied when asked if there was any chance Heap would play.
That means that Quinn Sypniewski will start again in Heap’s place. Sypniewski has caught a career-high 23 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown, which actually ties him with Heap for receptions and scores.
He caught his first NFL touchdown against the Browns during the Ravens’ 27-13 loss Sept. 30 in Cleveland.
"If I get an opportunity to catch the ball, I’m going to make the most of it," Sypniewski said. "I wouldn’t say I’m getting more comfortable at what I’m doing, but I’m getting better at what I’m doing."
The Ravens ruled out safety Gerome Sapp (hamstring) and tight end Daniel Wilcox (sprained toe).
Return specialist Yamon Figurs (knee sprain) was upgraded to probable and said he expects to be back returning punts and kickoffs Sunday.
Also listed as probable: fullback Le’Ron McClain (shoulder) and linebacker Gary Stills (knee).
The Browns downgraded defensive lineman Shaun Smith (knee) to questionable. Linebackers Willie McGinest (hamstring) and Antwan Peek (knee) were upgraded to probable.
WARNING, DANGER AHEAD: Browns return specialist Josh Cribbs ranks second in the NFL with a 32.4 return average and has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.
Against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, he had a 90-yard kickoff return down to the 3-yard line and a 100-yard return for a touchdown. He has already set four Browns records this year.
He has returned kicks a total of 1,230 yards in nine games. The NFL record of 2,186 yards belongs to the Arizona Cardinals’ MarTay Jenkins in 2000.
Cribbs hasn’t many opportunities as a punt returner. He has 12 returns for 118 yards for a 9.8 average.
Plus, Cribbs leads the Browns with a dozen special-teams tackles.
"From what I’ve seen, you prefer to kick away from him," Billick said in a conference call with Cleveland reporters. "He’s a strong combination of strength and speed. He has the ability to run through a tackle and get to a hole with excellent acceleration. He’s been very impactful for them."
CENTURY MARK: Former Ravens Pro Bowl runner Jamal Lewis will play in his 100th NFL game Sunday.
The Ravens’ all-time leading rusher gained 8,052 yards on 1,860 carries and scored 46 touchdowns during seven seasons in Baltimore.
The former NFL Offensive Player of the Year leads the Browns with 515 yards on 130 carries and has scored six rushing touchdowns.
"Weâ€™ve got to stop the run, make them one-dimensional," linebacker Bart Scott said. "Jamal is part of the running attack, so we’ve got to try to shut him down."
QUICK HITS: Running back Willis McGahee issued a minor complaint this week when asked if it bothered him that he doesn’t carry the football more often. "It’s always disappointing when you can’t get the rock," he said. "That’s what I want, to have the ball in my hand." … When asked what it would mean if Baltimore wins its first division game Sunday, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden said the Ravens can’t afford to be picky. "A win is a win," he said. "It’s nice in the division, but you know what? I don’t care. We could play UCLA this week. It doesn’t matter to me." … The Browns rank fourth in scoring as Anderson is 5-3 as a starter and ranks fifth in the AFC with a 90.7 rating. … Cleveland has the easiest remaining schedule of all of the AFC wild-card contenders. … The Ravens will hold their 12th annual food drive Sunday with all food and money donations accepted prior to kickoff going toward the Maryland Food Bank, which will distribute items to soup kitchens and emergency shelters during the holiday season.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.