OWINGS MILLS — Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh tersely refused to answer any questions about the condition of offensive left tackle Jared Gaither.
Listed as questionable with a neck injury that has sidelined him for the past two games, Gaither repeatedly declined to comment other than to say, "I’m feeling great."
At one point, Gaither nodded and smiled when asked if he expected to play Sunday against the undefeated Denver Broncos. A public relations staffer monitored the brief interview.
Gaither practiced on a limited basis Friday after being held out of practice Thursday after participating on a full-time basis on Wednesday. He didn’t wear a red jersey on Friday after donning one Thursday.
"I’m not even going to comment on injuries, so we’ll see," Harbaugh said. "If he’s out there on Sunday, you’ll see him. If he’s not, you won’t."
If Gaither is sidelined again, then rookie offensive tackle Michael Oher would start at left tackle again with Marshal Yanda filling in on the right side.
"I’m more comfortable at right tackle because I’ve been there for a while," Oher said. "I’ll play left or right, it doesn’t matter. I can’t talk about that kind of stuff."
Inside linebacker Tavares Gooden was upgraded to full participation in practice.
Gooden is recovering from a slight concussion suffered when he got hit in the chin at practice this week.
He’s listed as probable.
Like Gaither, Gooden said that Harbaugh instructed him not to talk about his injury.
The Ravens also listed quarterback Joe Flacco (sprained right ankle), kicker Steve Hauschka (right ankle), linebacker Jarret Johnson (left shoulder), free safety Ed Reed (illness) and wide receiver David Tyree (hamstring) as probable.
"I was kicking and I hit the ball a little weird," Hauschka said. "It felt good as the week went on."
The Broncos are extremely healthy, listing two defensive starters as probable with hamstring injuries.
Strong safety Brian Dawkins and nose guard Ronald Fields both practiced.
The architect of that defense is former Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who coached the Baltimore defense from 2002 to 2004.
Installing an aggressive 3-4 alignment, Nolan has the Broncos playing lights-out defense headlined by NFL sacks leader Elvis Dumervil.
"Mike’s instituted a real complex scheme," Harbaugh said. "It’s nothing magical, but it’s a heck of a job coaching."
The Broncos are tied for second in the NFL with 21 sacks, led by Dumervil’s 10 sacks.
The Broncos lead the NFL with a 26.9 third-down percentage. They rank second in yards allowed per game (262.5) and yards per play (4.4).
The Ravens saw the 3-4 earlier this season in a win over the San Diego Chargers as quarterback Joe Flacco was sacked just once while passing for two touchdowns.
"They do a lot of things that our guys have done in the past," Flacco said. "I think that plays well for us because we know how to react to it.”
Flacco’s trademark poise has served him well this season, throwing 11 touchdown passes and piling up 1,674 yards for a 93.8 quarterback rating.
“There are certain times throughout a game where you feel uncertain,” Flacco said. “But I think I do a pretty good job of keeping myself level headed and adjusting to them pretty well."
OSCAR AWARD: Justin Harper has done a superb job of imitating Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall on the scout team, drawing rave reviews from Harbaugh.
Recently, the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder pretended to be Randy Moss.
"When he’s the look team guy, he picks out a specific receiver, studies the way he plays and emulates him a little bit in practice," Harbaugh said. "I think he comes up with things that help him become a better player. If he can become the kind of receiver that Brandon Marshall is, we’d be pretty happy about that."
AGGRESSIVE ENOUGH: One year removed from the "organized chaos," that defined former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan’s approach, the Ravens aren’t blitzing nearly as much as they did last season.
Under new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, the defense has tried to generate pressure with their front four. However, players haven’t done a great job of defeating single-blocking.
"I think we’re aggressive," said outside linebacker Jarret Johnson, who’s tied with Trevor Pryce with a team-high four sacks. "Obviously, it’s going to be different with a new coach, but I think we’re as aggressive as we need to be."
Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs has been limited to 2 ½ sacks after signing a $62.5 million contract this summer.
“I’m hearing a little bit of everything, ‘He’s not the same pass rusher,’ and all of this and that,” Suggs said. “I did the math myself. I put more pressure on than anybody does. I was looking at myself and I was like, ‘Where was I at last year around this point?’
“I think I had 3 ½ or maybe four sacks. So, I’m just a sack behind where I was last year, but it’s time to turn it up. Either way, I’m going to continue to be me.”
COMING HOME: Former Ravens receiver Brandon Stokley is still contributing as a clutch downfield target.
He has caught nine passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns as the Broncos’ third receiver, including the game-winning touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The former Ravens fourth-round draft pick caught a touchdown from Trent Dilfer in the Super Bowl victory over the New York Giants and halted the team’s five-game touchdown drought during the 2000 season.
"He’s a guy that probably all throughout his career, he’s been underestimated and he just keeps making plays," Harbaugh said. "He’s a tremendous route runner. He’s a real good competitor underneath and just seems to be around the ball.
"When there’s a ball in the air, he comes up with it a lot of times. That play against Cincinnati was pretty indicative of his career."
QUICK HITS: The Broncos have outscored opponents by a staggering 73-10 margin in the second half. And they’ve allowed just four third-down conversion after halftime. "They get after it," Harbaugh said. "They’re very aggressive in the second half and they make a lot of plays. They’re playing with a lot of confidence. There are 1,000 reasons. They stop people on third down. That’s the bottom line." … The Ravens are very impressed with Dawkins’ veteran presence. "He’s definitely a leader," tight end Todd Heap said. "You see the passion that he brings on the field. They’re bringing him down in the box a ton, using him on blitzes a ton and he’s playing all over the field." … The series between Baltimore and Denver is tied at 3-3 with the Ravens winning both meetings in Baltimore. The last time the Ravens played the Broncos was in 2006, a 13-3 loss in Denver where the late Steve McNair threw three interceptions.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.