(Updated: 6:35 p.m.)
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With a lack of depth at several key offensive positions, the Ravens thought they had solved one problem with the return of veteran Casey Rabach on Tuesday.
But just like sidelined starting center Matt Birk, Rabach wasn’t healthy himself, failing his physical on Wednesday and wiping out what would have been a two-year contract to return to Baltimore and bring a veteran presence to the Ravens’ center and guard positions. The news now leaves the Ravens with rookie free agents Tim Barnes and Ryan Bartholomew as their only options at the center position.
Coach John Harbaugh confirmed Birk underwent arthroscopic knee surgery to “clean out” the bursa sac in his left knee and is expected to miss three to four weeks after the minor procedure on Tuesday. Birk has dealt with knee issues in the past, including last season when he had his knee drained several different times despite not missing a game.
With Rabach failing his physical after undergoing shoulder surgery earlier this offseason, general manager Ozzie Newsome will continue looking for a veteran interior lineman, but Harbaugh reiterated the Ravens’ confidence in Birk being ready for the season opener against Pittsburgh on Sept. 11 and continuing as the starter in 2011.
“Matt will be our starting center,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t think he necessarily needs training camp. That’s my feeling. Let him get this cleaned up right now and we’ll get a week or two of training camp with him, and he’ll be ready to play.”
No veteran backup yet
After word broke Wednesday morning of veteran Marc Bulger announcing his retirement, the Ravens lost their best candidate for an experienced quarterback to back up starter Joe Flacco.
Sixth-round pick Tyrod Taylor is currently No. 2 on the depth chart with last year’s practice squad quarterback Hunter Cantwell also on the 90-man roster. Harbaugh is open to a veteran being added to the mix, but he will continue to evaluate Taylor’s development in the meantime.
How likely is it that the Ravens bring in a veteran at this point?
“A chance,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just see how our young guys do. See how [Taylor] does over there, and we’ll try to figure it out from there.”
A thin free agent market for quarterbacks includes the likes Brodie Croyle, Jake Delhomme, and Patrick Ramsey.
Harbaugh was not surprised to hear about Bulger’s intentions to retire after hearing rumors over the last week. The Ravens coach was appreciative of the work the veteran backup did with Flacco a season ago.
“I thought it was 50-50 in my mind,” Harbaugh said. “Marc has a lot of things going on. He has a lot of charitable things going on. His family’s in St. Louis. Good luck to him.”
The defense traditionally dominates the early stages of training camp — especially in Baltimore — and it’s been no different this season with summer practices shifted to Owings Mills due to the lockout.
Wednesday’s practice was conducted in helmets, shells, and shorts, and the passing offense could get little done against the Baltimore defense. Pressure came up front, receivers created little separation, and few passes were completed for extended portions of practice.
With Torrey Smith returning to practice in a very limited fashion, first-team receivers included Justin Harper, Brandon Jones, and rookie Tandon Doss opposite incumbent starter Anquan Boldin. The center position was manned mostly by the Missouri rookie Barnes and right guard was occupied by Justin Boren.
The main highlight from the offense came in the latter half of practice when starting tight end Ed Dickson caught a long touchdown pass from Flacco. Taylor, the Virginia Tech product, also threw a beautiful sideline pass to Terrelly Zachary over rookie draft pick Chykie Brown.
Watching Flacco and the offense work, it’s becoming painfully obvious how thin the Ravens are at wide receiver. At one point during individual work, Flacco and Taylor simultaneously threw passes in the direction of Boldin. The receiver caught one while the other pass hit him in the side.
It was a humorous (or sad, depending on how you view it) scene depicting the Ravens’ lack of passing targets.
Cornerback Jimmy Smith remains sidelined with a “groin tweak” in Harbaugh’s words. It is not believed to be serious, but the Ravens are using extra caution with the first-round pick.
Veteran cornerback Domonique Foxworth (knee) and Torrey Smith (hamstring) returned to practice after sitting out on Tuesday.
Wide receiver James Hardy (hamstring) suited up to practice, but the 6-foot-5 wideout was only a limited participant. Cornerback Danny Gorrer didn’t practice after working with the starting defense on Tuesday.
There were no changes to the active physically-unable-to-perform list, as David Reed, Ramon Harewood, and Brandon McKinney did not practice.
Odds & ends
Former Ravens fullback Le’Ron McClain signed a one-year deal with the Chiefs, joining former Ravens defensive tackle Kelly Gregg in Kansas City. The Chiefs visit M&T Bank Stadium on Aug. 19 in the second preseason game for the Ravens. … Terrence Cody and Arthur Jones shared reps at nose tackle as the Ravens went through team passing drills. … Seventh-round running back Anthony Allen received plenty of reps with the starting offense in what resembled a light workday for starter Ray Rice. … Former Terps receiver LaQuan Williams had an up-and-down afternoon, making a nice catch before being stripped of the football by Brown. Williams bounced back on the next play, catching a slant for what might have been a touchdown in a non-contact drill.
Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from John Harbaugh, tight end Dennis Pitta, and tight ends coach Wade Harman.