WESTMINSTER, Md. — What originally started as an innocent case of back cramps has transformed into a long-term concern for offensive tackle Jared Gaither and the Ravens.
Gaither will miss another two to three weeks with what’s being described as a “small tear” in his back, according to coach John Harbaugh. The tear continues to cause the spasms Gaither has experienced since July 30 when he was carted off the field during the first afternoon practice for veteran players.
“He’s got something in his back,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a very small tear. I don’t know the medical term for it. It’s not a serious thing, but it’s going to keep him out a couple weeks until it settles down.”
After briefly returning to practice for four days after missing the first weekend of workouts in Westminster, Gaither has not practiced since August 5 and missed the team’s preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers on Thursday.
Gaither has now seen at least two back specialists, including one in California who made the diagnosis earlier this week.
“[Gaither's] going to have to work as hard as he can,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll have to try to work it out. I wouldn’t hold my breath for two weeks, three weeks through camp here and we’ll see where we’re at at that point.”
Third-year tackle Oniel Cousins has played in Gaither’s place on the right side with the first offense and started against the Panthers on Thursday.
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8:25 p.m. — In addition to Gaither, others missing from practice included cornerbacks Chris Carr and Marcus Paschal, center Matt Birk, and offensive lineman Daniel Sanders, who had his left arm in a sling during practice.
Offensive tackle Tony Moll (concussion) and defensive back K.J. Gerard (hamstring) returned to practice. Cornerback Fabian Washington (knee) was a full participant in Saturday’s practice after sitting out Thursday’s game as a precautionary measure.
There was no change to the active physically unable to perform list, which includes safety Ed Reed (hip), cornerback Lardarius Webb (knee), running back Matt Lawrence (knee), and linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo (quadriceps).
7:40 p.m. — With John Harbaugh canceling both practices on Sunday, it’s no shock the players were taken aback, given the head coach’s workmanlike, no-nonsense reputation. The team will be back on the practice field on Monday at 8:45 a.m. and will have a special teams workout at 2:00 p.m.
“They were a little bit surprised,” said Harbaugh, drawing laughs from reporters. “They didn’t say much, they didn’t really respond. I think they were looking for the catch, they were waiting for the ‘but.’
“The truth is I don’t think it’s a reward, it’s where we’re at right now. It’s a reward, I guess, in the sense that they’ve earned it. We’ve worked really hard throughout training camp—coaches and players—and I think the best thing for us is a little recovery time. We pack a lot of work in every single practice. I like where we’re at right now as a football team, and, really, the best thing for us is to give them a chance to get a jump-start on their legs.”
Sunday’s cancellation leaves only four days of training camp practices before the Ravens break camp on Friday, a day before their second preseason game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field on Saturday night.
“Just grateful for [the time off],” said receiver Mark Clayton, who admitted many players thought the coach was joking when he gave the news. “I know we’ll take advantage of it, rest up, and come out Monday and give it everything we’ve got.”
7:35 p.m. — Despite missing a 50-yard field goal against the Panthers on Thursday night, veteran Shayne Graham rebounded on Saturday afternoon by connecting on all five attempts, including one from the same distance he missed in the preseason opener.
Billy Cundiff missed wide left from 50 yards but connected on his other five tries during the afternoon practice.
John Harbaugh still sees the competition as being wide open despite some recent struggles from Graham, including his miss against the Panthers.
“It’s too early to say. They’ve both done well. I think [Graham's] kick in the game was a tough one. He wants to make that kick, but it was a tough kick.”
7:25 p.m. — As for the afternoon practice itself, it was a sloppy day for the passing offense as numerous receivers dropped passes, something we haven’t seen very often in an otherwise crisp training camp for the revamped passing game.
Fullback Le’Ron McClain and receivers Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason dropped passes on three of four plays at one point during 11-on-11 drills. One defender shouted, “More carries, not more catches!” after McClain dropped a short pass out of the backfield, a jab at the fullback’s comedic campaign to receive more carries in the Baltimore offense this season.
It was, however, an impressive afternoon for rookie tight end Dennis Pitta who made two impressive catches during 11-on-11 work. Pitta caught a Marc Bulger pass over safety Dawan Landry in the back of the end zone and later made a diving, juggling catch to earn cheers from the Westminster crowd.
Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe lined up on the inside with the starting defense, perhaps signifying a change in the depth chart after the preseason opener.
Jameel McClain received the start next to Ray Lewis on Thursday and had been the starter through the first couple weeks of camp but was out of position and missed tackles on several occasions against the Panthers.
McClain worked at outside linebacker with the second defense for most of the afternoon practice. The other contender for the starting inside linebacker position, Tavares Gooden, was not very active during the team portion of practice.
7:05 p.m. — The other big news of the day was the Ravens parting ways with veteran long snapper Matt Katula. The Ravens re-signed cornerback Brad Jones, who was with the team during the OTA schedule, and waived Katula, leaving rookie Morgan Cox as the only long snapper on the 80-man camp roster. Cox handled all long-snapping against Carolina in the preseason opener on Thursday.
“We wanted to see [Cox] in a game situation,” Harbaugh said. “He’s been doing a real good job throughout the offseason and throughout training camp, but you never want to make a move until you know [he can do it] in a game. He did a nice job, and we feel comfortable he can be our snapper, so we’ll go with the younger guy.”
Harbaugh said Katula’s issue with elbow tendinitis last season did not factor in the decision and the veteran was healthy. Katula had been the Ravens’ long snapper since 2005 when he unseated veteran incumbent Joe Maese during training camp.
That’s life in the NFL as a long snapper.