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WESTMINSTER — The fluctuating status of Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Jared Gaither took an upward turn Monday morning when he made a surprise return to practice.
Sidelined since Friday afternoon when he was carted off the field with a lower-back issue initially characterized as cramps as well as another unspecified ailment, Gaither lined up at left tackle and didn’t display any signs of health problems.
Dramatically slimmer at 311 pounds after playing at roughly 340 pounds last season, the 6-foot-9 former University of Maryland lineman has been a topic of conversation throughout the year with foot issues that kept him out during minicamp. He was also linked to rampant trade rumors with no concrete, viable offers emerging for him this spring.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh didn’t shed much light on what’s been bothering Gaither, who had ice packs applied to his lower back Friday.
"I really don’t know what was bothering him," Harbaugh said. "We learned it’s nothing major. They did bloodwork and things like that, and they found out it’s really not a major thing, which is what they were taking precautions on. So, they cleared him to go and he was out there and did a nice job."
Although Gaither seems to have practically eliminated himself from playing right tackle, which involves grappling with larger, heavier defensive ends than he would encounter on the left side, Harbaugh downplayed the weight issue.
"No, I haven’t talked to him about that," Harbaugh said. "What I’m talking to him about right now is playing. I think the weight issue will take care of itself, one way or another. He’s going to lift.
"He’s going to work hard in the weight room. He’s going to eat, so I’m sure the weight will work itself out one way or another. The main thing is he gets his technique right."
A former high school basketball player in Greenbelt, Gaither resembles a power forward or a big tight end nowadays more than a huge offensive tackle.
Michael Oher is still expected to be the left tackle because of his superior work ethic and reliability.
The Ravens also got reserve offensive tackle Stefan Rodgers back on the field after he missed time with ankle and knee issues.
The Ravens had Oher back on the right side with Joe Reitz and Ramon Harewood taking reps as well. The Ravens also used a heavy-duty package with Harewood, Oher and Gaither all on the field at the same time.
Harbaugh said he wouldn’t have concerns about Gaither not being bulky enough potentially to play right tackle should the team go with Oher on the left side.
"We’ll find out," Harbaugh said. "I don’t think so. He’s a big, strong guy, and he’s got long arms. So, we’ll find out. We’ll put him out there and we’ll see."