OWINGS MILLS — Although Baltimore Ravens starting wide receiver Mark Clayton has made significant progress from a strained left hamstring, he has still been ruled out for a Saturday preseason game against the Carolina Panthers.
Clayton began practicing again this week for the first time since suffering a high-degree strain on Aug. 2 in Westminster.
Clayton had described this weekend as a possibility, but the Ravens are shooting for him to take part in their final preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons with an eye toward preparing him for starting against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 13 in the season opener.
“The season, obviously, is the most important part, and we’re certainly not going to put him at risk,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “You won’t see him in this game. Atlanta is a possibility.
“There’s no way we’re going to put him at risk. You’d love to have the guy out there playing and becoming the best Mark he can be, but you’ve got to have him healthy.”
Clayton said he’s nearly reached the point where he’s not feeling any twinges of pain, an unexpected development. At one point, he didn’t think he would be able to play until the first week or two of the regular season.
“It’s definitely coming,” he said. “It’s really a blessing to be back on the field at this point right now. We didn’t think we would be here this soon. I thought that it would take me clear into the season, pretty much Week One or Week 2.
“We’ll monitor it and be smart about it and get my endurance back. If I feel like we get to a level where it’s getting hazardous, we’ll sit out.”
Over the past two days, Clayton has been running pass patterns at something approaching full speed.
Meanwhile, tight end L.J. Smith is dealing with the frustration of another leg injury that may sideline him for the remainder of the preseason.
He’s recovering from a lower hamstring injury in the same leg that he incurred an upper hamstring injury. And these latest injuries follow problems with his sports hernia, groin and hip flexor.
“I’m a little frustrated,” Smith said. “I thought I had turned the corner. The most frustrating part is it’s a different part of the hammy. I really wasn’t expecting it. I’ve just got to keep my chin up, keep rehabbing and make sure I can compete when the season starts.”
Smith arrived in Baltimore with an injury-prone reputation, missing several games over the past few seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles due to back, shoulder, sports hernia, groin and knee issues.
“The biggest thing is to make sure that it’s good enough to play, and I’ll take it from there,” Smith said. “That’s pretty much been the story of my last three years. It’s nothing else but bad luck.
“I work hard and do everything the coaches want me to be doing. It’s not a monthly or bi-monthly thing. It’s weekly, and the more treatment I can get before the first game the better.”
Also not practicing: offensive tackles Jared Gaither (shoulder, wrist), Oniel Cousins (sprained right ankle) and Stefan Rodgers (sprained right foot), offensive guard Chris Chester (calf sprain), linebackers Terrell Suggs (strained left Achilles’ tendon, heel) and Dannell Ellerbe (sprained medial collateral ligament), cornerback Samari Rolle (knee) and wide receiver Biren Ealy (groin).
Chester’s calf was heavily wrapped up. It’s unclear if he’ll play Saturday, but he’s confident he’ll definitely play next week against the Falcons if he’s held out against the Panthers.
“It feels like a knot, nothing huge or anything,” he said. “We’re just being smart about it. It’s not that bad.”
Asked to describe the level of pain, Chester replied: “Annoying.”
Harbaugh said that the team remains optimistic that Suggs will return for the Chiefs game.
“I’m not a doctor, as these guys say all the time,” he said. “We’ve been told that he’ll be ready. He’s not ready yet.”
RETURN GAME: Outlining the kick returner situation, Harbaugh is eager to get more of a chance to evaluate talented rookie Lardarius Webb.
While the team is counting on Chris Carr to be the primary returner, Webb is expected to have a role. He can’t fumble, though, as he did against the New York Jets.
“He’s a guy that needs a certain number of reps because we have plans for him right now,” Harbaugh said. “The other guys are going to have to take a back seat to that and get their reps where they can get them.
“We know Chris Carr is going to be here. Lardarius Webb is in our plans at this point, and then we just have to get those guys ready and go from there.”
PLAYING TIME: Harbaugh plans to play the starters for roughly three quarters against Carolina, but some veterans will play a select amount of snaps.
QUICK HITS: Offensive guard Marshal Yanda impressed Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron during his first game since tearing three knee ligaments last season against the Indianapolis Colts. “I look out there and I see a good football player,” Cameron said. “He didn’t get a ton of reps the other night, but when he did, he played very well. All that I see is positive.” … Despite the injuries at offensive tackle and the loss of depth with Adam Terry out for the season, Cameron said that he doesn’t think the Ravens necessarily need to sign a proven veteran. “I think you’ve got to let that play out, and Ozzie [Newsome] and John will make that decision,” he said. “Right now, from my perspective, we have a very good group. I think added depth, everyone would love added depth, but that’s not always possible for whatever reason, salary cap, roster spot, whatever it would be. I like the guys we have, and we can win with the guys we’ve got.” … Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison wants to see better run-stopping from the first-team defense after struggling to stop Jets runners Thomas Jones and Leon Washington, especially on draw plays. “You’re glad that some of the negative things that might have happened in a game didn’t happen on the Kansas City game, for example,” he said. “That’s our job, and we’ve got to get it to our players to make sure any corrections that have to be made get done before we get into that regular season."