OWINGS MILLS, Md. — While most eyes were on the Ravens’ young tandem of rookie Jimmy Smith and third-year surprise Cary Williams making their first preseason starts on Friday night, another cornerback saw his first action as well.
Veteran Domonique Foxworth, more than a year removed from the ACL injury that ended his 2010 season at the start of training camp — saw a limited number of snaps against the Kansas City Chiefs. He continues an uphill recovery that’s left him frustrated at different points during the offseason and training camp, forcing him to miss practice time and the preseason opener in Philadelphia.
“I’m getting better,” Foxworth said. “Through the course of a day, I’ll have some plays where I feel great and some plays where I don’t feel so great. I’m trying to ease my way back in there.”
Foxworth saw a limited number of plays with the second defense and has worked with the second unit in recent practices, designed to limit his action as well as build confidence in the surgically-repaired knee. The 28-year-old cornerback was determined to be ready by the start of training camp but soon learned the importance of pacing himself.
“We talked about it before,” Foxworth said. “I think they want to be smart and try to keep me on a pitch count so to speak, I guess, is the best way to describe it. Early on in camp, I made the mistake of being a little overzealous and it set me back a little bit, but I think we’re trying to be a little more smart this time around.”
While Foxworth has slowly worked his way back in hopes of securing the starting job he held in 2009 after signing a four-year, $28 million contract that offseason, a number of young corners have heated up the competition, particularly Smith and Williams. Many players might feel threatened by the increased level of competition, but not Foxworth, who not only battled the disappointment of the injury last summer but also a feeling of letting down his teammates and fans.
What was previously viewed as one of the Ravens’ biggest areas of weakness a season ago has transformed into a unit of great depth with Foxworth, Chris Carr, Lardarius Webb, Smith, and Williams all being held in high regard by defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. Having so many starting options has eased Foxworth’s nerves while he continues to recover.
“It’s been stressful, but the encouraging thing is seeing how good the rest of the corners on the team are,” Foxworth said. “Last year, one of the most difficult things for me to deal with was kind of leaving a bit of a hole on the team that you feel responsible for. This year, we’re really deep and really talented, so no matter what happens with any one or two guys, we have other guys who can step in and do just as good a job.”
Some have questioned why Foxworth’s recovery has taken so long after suffering the injury on the eve of full-squad workouts last summer in Westminster — Lardarius Webb and former Ravens cornerback Fabian Washington suffered similar injuries late in the 2009 season and were ready for training camp the following year — but the absence of an offseason program and access to the Ravens training facility are factors many overlook, according to head coach John Harbaugh. The coach is pleased with Foxworth’s progress after several weeks of practice.
“He didn’t have the offseason with us, so that made probably a slower [recovery] process,” Harbaugh said. “It was really a matter of pushing it, then forcing it to recover, pushing it, then forcing it to recover. It seems like he can push it a little harder and it takes a little less recovery time now for the soreness or whatever to go away. It seems like he’s doing well.
“I think what you’re going to see is how well he plays, how well does he change direction, accelerate, break on balls, things like that. That seems to be getting better everyday.”
The challenge of recovering from an ACL injury is daunting enough for any player, but it becomes magnified at the cornerback position where you’re often playing on an island. When pressed whether it’s more difficult for a defensive back to bounce back quickly from that type of injury, Foxworth exuded the same faith in himself that’s taken him from Western Tech to the University of Maryland and, eventually, the Ravens.
“It might be [more difficult] if you’re not a confident guy,” Foxworth said. “I’m pretty confident. You can look at me, I’m handsome, fast, quick. I’m modest, humble. It doesn’t take much for me to be confident.”
Cornerback Chris Carr and guard Marshal Yanda returned to practice on a limited basis. Carr sat out the latter half of practice while Yanda did some work during the early positional period before leaving the field.
Linebacker Jarret Johnson sat out Sunday’s practice while dealing with a back issue.
Safety Ed Reed rested during Sunday’s workout as he has been given the liberty to do at different points during training camp.
Harbaugh provided an update on center Matt Birk, who underwent knee surgery several weeks ago and is still being counted upon to return for the regular season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 11.
“He’s progressing,” Harbaugh said. “It was supposed to be three to four weeks before he’d be moving around pretty well. Now he’s starting to walk a little bit. I’m anxious; I want to see him out here sooner rather than later, but it’s not something that we really control.”
Lewis returns to team
After being excused from the team to deal with a serious illness within his family, linebacker Ray Lewis returned to practice. He did not play against Kansas City as Dannell Ellerbe made the start in his place.
“Family always comes first and is the most important part of our lives,” Lewis said in a statement released by the Ravens. “I want to thank everyone for every prayer and thought they’ve provided. I’d also like to give a special thanks to the coaches and Ravens organization who have always put family first and allowed me to leave and take care of my family during this very hard time. We will get through this together as a family and with God. Thank you again for the thoughts and prayers and for respecting our privacy during this challenging time.”
Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear more from John Harbaugh, Domonique Foxworth, and Cary Williams following Sunday’s practice in Owings Mills.