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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — More than 10 months after suffering a spinal cord contusion that threatened his football future, inside linebacker Jameel McClain returned to practice on Wednesday as the Ravens continued preparations for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
McClain remains on the reserve physically unable to perform list for now, but his return to the practice field triggered the start of a 21-day window in which the sixth-year linebacker may practice. Though he may return prior to the end of the three-week period, McClain must be added to the active roster at the end of the window or placed on season-ending injured reserve.
Coach John Harbaugh confirmed that McClain has been cleared to return to the football field after recovering from a spinal cord injury suffered against the Washington Redskins on Dec. 9 of last season, but no decision has been made on his status against Pittsburgh on Sunday. The Ravens have their bye in Week 8, making it plausible that they would ease McClain back into practices this week with the thought of activating him after the bye.
“We’re going to practice Jameel McClain today,” Harbaugh said prior to practice. “He’s eligible to do that. We do not know what that means for this week, next week, or the week after. We do know that it means within three weeks that we’ve got to make a decision about whether we’d put him on the 53-man roster. We’ll just have to see how it goes with that.”
How McClain will fit within the defense remains to be seen as inside linebacker Daryl Smith has been arguably the biggest surprise of the season and has handled making the calls in the defensive huddle admirably through the first six weeks of the season. Having made 45 starts in his NFL career, McClain could potentially unseat Josh Bynes at the weakside inside linebacker spot, a position he played next to the retired Ray Lewis in past seasons.
For now, McClain is pleased to prove doubters wrong about his ability to return to football and will work to get himself back into football shape after continuing to work out and attend meetings at the team’s Owings Mills facility since he was injured late last season. The Syracuse product and Philadelphia native feels he’s ready to play right away but acknowledged that the coaches and training staff will ultimately decide when he returns to game action.
However, the itch is there for McClain to return to action with his injury fully healed.
“You understand the feeling of watching people play day in and day out,” said McClain, who admitted using his doubters as motivation to keep working hard as his spinal cord healed. “Getting to see my teammates put their pads on and go out and do work while I had to stand around and watch, it’s no doubt that I’m itching. I’m preparing myself mentally and especially physically coming into this game.”
Cody returns to practice; Bynes, Canty sidelined
In addition to McClain, defensive tackle Terrence Cody returned to the practice field on Wednesday for the first time since injuring his knee in the first quarter of the Ravens’ win over the Houston Texans on Sept. 22.
Cody has missed three straight games but practiced on a limited basis after telling reporters last week that he was moving closer to a return to action. Rookie Brandon Williams has taken Cody’s place in several defensive sub packages, which will make for an interesting competition for reps between the first-year player and Cody, who is scheduled to become a free agent after the season.
Inside linebackers Josh Bynes and Albert McClellan and defensive end Chris Canty (thigh) were absent from Wednesday’s practice, making McClain’s return a welcome sight for a lighter group of inside linebackers. While McClellan has missed the last two weeks of practice — though he’s played in each of the last two games — Harbaugh revealed that Bynes is dealing with a finger injury.
“Josh Bynes has an infection in his finger, which he cut a couple of weeks ago,” Harbaugh said. “He was actually in the hospital last night with it. He got good news. It’s good — it’s clearing up.”
Canty was present and dressed out to work during the portion of practice open to the media before being listed as a non-participant, perhaps indicating a day of rest for the veteran defensive lineman.
Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (hip and elbow) was practicing after straining his elbow in the first half of Sunday’s loss to the Green Bay Packers.
Wednesday’s injury report
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Josh Bynes (thigh, finger), DE Chris Canty (thigh), LB Albert McClellan (shoulder)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Chykie Brown (thigh), DT Terrence Cody (knee), C Ryan Jensen (foot), DT Haloti Ngata (elbow), LB Courtney Upshaw (foot), CB Lardarius Webb (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Jameel McClain (neck), DT Marcus Spears (knee), WR Brandon Stokley (thigh)
OUT: WR Markus Wheaton (finger)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Jarvis Jones (head)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: T Marcus Gilbert (quad), DE Brett Keisel (abdomen), TE Heath Miller (non-injury related), LB LaMarr Woodley (knee)