OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Completing their final practice of the calendar year, the Ravens are aiming for a positive start to 2011 against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium.
Baltimore (11-4) saw two player return to the practice field Friday and appears to be in good shape physically for the regular-season finale. To no one’s surprise, safety Ed Reed (neck) was present at the open portion of practice, confirming speculation that Thursday was an impromptu day off for the veteran dealing with a number of ailments over the last few seasons.
“It was just precautionary,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He was a little bit tight, and we just felt like giving him a chance to recover a little bit and rest up. We do that with some guys this time of year.”
Also returning to the practice field was linebacker Prescott Burgess (illness) after missing two days with the flu bug that has worked its way through the training complex in Owings Mills in recent weeks.
Safety Tom Zbikowski (back) and linebacker Tavares Gooden (shoulder) did not practice and were the only players not participating fully in the Friday session. Zbikowski was not expected to play against the Bengals, but the team had some hope that Gooden might play before both players were ruled out in Friday afternoon’s injury report.
Receiver David Reed (head/wrist) practiced again and was returning kicks on Friday, a good indication that the rookie will return to action after sustaining a concussion against the New Orleans Saints in Week 15. However, he is listed as questionable on the official injury report.
Heap set to return
After practicing fully all week, tight end Todd Heap declared himself ready to return Sunday after missing three straight games with a hamstring injury sustained against Pittsburgh on December 5. The veteran said he experienced no setbacks throughout the week while handling a full practice load.
Heap is listed as questionable, but all indications point to his return against the Bengals.
“I feel good,” Heap said. “Obviously, today we went pretty hard. I came out feeling really good. I ran well, and I’m looking forward to this weekend. We’ll see how it goes Sunday.”
Heap practiced on a limited basis last week, but the team held him out in the chilly conditions at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The training staff has used a day-by-day approach to monitor his recovery since injuring the hamstring on the first play of the game against the Steelers in Week 13.
“Feel good about [his return],” Harbaugh said. “We’ll wait and see how it feels [after Friday's practice]. What we’ve done is checked it out after every practice the next day to see how it responds. So far so good.”
With the playoffs looming next week, Heap eyed a return in the regular-season finale to regain his footing within the offense and boost his confidence physically before the stakes become much higher in January.
Rookie Ed Dickson started the last three games in Heap’s absence, catching a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints in Week 15, but Baltimore tight ends went without a catch last week in Cleveland.
“That’s the biggest thing,” Heap said. “Getting your feet back under you, I definitely wanted to do that. The biggest thing for me is just make sure I’m full-go and I’m ready. Make sure the hamstring is feeling like it’s supposed to feel. I don’t want to do anything to set myself back. Still have to be smart.”
With Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco both out for Sunday’s game in Baltimore, the Bengals receiving corps will be much quieter, but the Ravens secondary will keep a close eye on the young group that’s produced in their place.
Third-year receiver Jerome Simpson caught six passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns in their win over the San Diego Chargers last week. Andre Caldwell was a thorn in the Ravens’ side in 2009, catching two touchdowns including the game-winning score in Baltimore.
“They have good receivers,” Harbaugh said. “They have good young guys who showed up pretty well last week. We’ll have to cover whoever they put out there, but I really like their talented young guys, and Carson [Palmer] seems comfortable with them.”
Scoreboard watching allowed
Ravens fans will certainly be keeping an eye on the happenings in Cleveland on Sunday, and Harbaugh and his team will have the opportunity to take a peak as well. When asked about Brian Billick’s past requests that the out-of-town scores with playoff implications not be shown at M&T Bank Stadium, the current coach responded coyly.
“I didn’t know I had that kind of power,” said Harbaugh, drawing laughs from the media in attendance. “That’s good to know.”
Harbaugh said all week the Ravens will play the entire game like any other regular-season contest, regardless of what’s happening between the Browns and Steelers. However, he won’t prohibit anyone from following a major factor in the team’s playoff destination.
“I can see why you might do that, but we’ll let [the scores] be up there,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not worried about our players one bit. I know our guys will be focused, and they’re going to play the game.”
RAVENS: OUT – S Tom Zbikowski (back), LB Tavares Gooden (shoulder) QUESTIONABLE – TE Todd Heap (thigh), WR David Reed (wrist/head) PROBABLE – C Matt Birk (knee), WR Derrick Mason (ankle/abs), CB Fabian Washington (back), LB Prescott Burgess (illness), TE Dennis Pitta (head), S Ed Reed (neck)
BENGALS: OUT – WR Chad Ochocinco (ankle) DOUBTFUL – TE Jermaine Gresham (knee) QUESTIONABLE - CB Johnathan Joseph (ankle), LB Dan Skuta (back) PROBABLE – DE Carlos Dunlap (shoulder), RB Bernard Scott (toe)