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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Injured linebacker Jameel McClain is still an active member of the Ravens, working out on a daily basis, attending meetings, and even jumping out of the weight room to startle a few oblivious reporters during Tuesday’s practice at the team’s facility.
When the 28-year-old returns to action, however, remains a mystery after he suffered a spinal cord contusion more than nine months ago in a game against the Washington Redskins. McClain was placed on the physically unable to perform list at the start of training camp and will likely begin the regular season with that designation, according to head coach John Harbaugh.
McClain has undergone periodic magnetic resonance imaging to determine how well his spinal cord is healing, but he hasn’t been cleared for contact despite optimism throughout the offseason that he would be ready to play this season. A limited participant during spring organized team activities, McClain is now facing a minimum of a six-game absence should he be placed on the reserve PUP list, which allows the Ravens to remove him from the 53-man roster but prohibits him from returning until after the first six weeks of the regular season.
“If we go with the PUP [designation], which I think we will at this point, [we’ll] probably get another MRI before we make that decision,” Harbaugh said. “If we do that, then we’ll just do it again when that time comes, and we’ll see where he is.”
In McClain’s absence, the Ravens have turned to veteran newcomer Daryl Smith to man the “Mike” inside linebacker position previously held by future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis. The Ravens recently renegotiated McClain’s current contract to reduce his 2013 base salary from $3 million to $1.5 million in what didn’t appear to be an encouraging sign for his availability this season.
Injured on Dec. 9 and placed on season-ending injured reserve, McClain was forced to watch from the sideline as the Ravens won Super Boxl XLVII in New Orleans. He made 44 starts over the last three seasons, most of those next to Lewis while serving as the defense’s weakside inside linebacker.
“There are a lot of people that probably think he could play,” Harbaugh said. “I think we’ve had this conversation now with [McClain] and his family, and we all feel like, ‘Let’s be unanimous on this.’ Jameel will continue to remain a part of us through the PUP. He’s in every meeting, [and] he’s training young guys. He’s staying in phenomenal shape.”
Under the rules of the reserve PUP list, a player has a three-week window to begin practicing at the conclusion of the first six weeks. From the point that the player returns to practice, he then has an additional 21-day window before the team must return him to the 53-man roster or place him on IR for the remainder of the season. If the player is unable to return to practice at the conclusion of the first three-week window, he must be placed on IR or released.
Harbaugh made it clear on Tuesday that the Ravens haven’t ruled out McClain from returning this season despite the growing outside pessimism about his status for the 2013 season and even beyond.
“We’ll just keep taking the MRIs, and when the MRI is clear, then he’ll go,” Harbaugh said. “The MRI will be clear. There’s no question that at some point in time it will be clear. It’s just impossible to tell the time frame.”
Counting down to the all-important third preseason game of the summer, the Ravens were once again looking promising from a health standpoint as tight end Ed Dickson, linebacker Elvis Dumervil, and defensive end Marcus Spears were all practicing for the second straight day.
Dickson worked on a limited basis Monday after being sidelined for two weeks with a slight hamstring tear, but he is not expected to play in Thursday’s game against the Carolina Panthers. However, optimism is growing that he’ll be available for the regular-season opener against Denver on Sept. 5.
“It’s really taken a turn for the better, probably in the last five days,” Harbaugh said. “He’s worked really, extremely hard, so we’re happy to see that and we’ll have to see. You never know. But we’ll have to see where it goes in the next week or so and see where we’re at.”
Dumervil and Spears figure to have a good chance of playing in what’s viewed as the final dress rehearsal for the starting units on Thursday before the start of the regular season.
There were no other changes to the attendance list as wide receiver Deonte Thompson (foot), linebackers Adrian Hamilton (wrist) and McClain (neck), offensive lineman Ryan Jensen (foot), tight end Dennis Pitta (hip), and defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore (knee) were all absent from the portion of practice open to the media. Tuesday marked the first time this summer where the Ravens used a regular-season format for media viewing of practice, only opening the first 30 minutes of the afternoon workout to reporters.
Harbaugh said Sunday that cornerback Lardarius Webb (knee) and right guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) likely have a good chance to receive some reps against Carolina, but a final decision is not expected to be made until the day before the game.
Extensive time for starters Thursday night
Harbaugh confirmed that the Ravens plan to play most starters for at least the first half of Thursday’s game against Carolina, following a similar strategy to what they’ve previously done in his tenure.
“It’s individualized,” Harbaugh said. “There will be starters that will probably play into the second half, and there will be starters that probably won’t make it to the end of the half.”
Based on how the final preseason game has been handled in recent seasons, the third preseason will mark the final live-game action of the summer for most starters.