OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With plenty of buzz stemming from a Yahoo! Sports report saying Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis could make his return as early as Week 15, John Harbaugh was obviously going to receive questions about the injured star on Monday.
As you’d expect, the Ravens coach made no definitive statements to confirm or deny Mike Silver’s report, but Harbaugh did offer his strongest opinion yet on a potential return by the 37-year-old linebacker, who sustained a torn right triceps against the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 14. The previous sentiment had been optimism that Lewis might return if the Ravens were to make a deep postseason run in January, but Harbaugh was asked whether he thought the 13-time Pro Bowl defensive player would be back before the end of the regular season.
“I think he will. That’s a best guess,” Harbaugh said. “He’s working hard to do that. We’ll see.”
Lewis is eligible to return to the practice field this week after spending the last six weeks on injured reserve with the designation to return. Under the rules of the new IR exemption, a player can begin practicing six weeks after being placed on IR and would be eligible to return to game action two weeks after that.
Harbaugh wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Lewis practicing this week, but he also didn’t provide much clarity in how far along the linebacker is in the rehabilitation process. Lewis made his return to the team’s Owings Mills facility on Nov. 9 and has been on the sideline at each of the Ravens’ last three games.
If Lewis is planning to get back on the field this week, the Ravens aren’t offering any kind of a warning at this point.
“We’ll know then. We’ll have to test [the arm] and see if it can hold up,” Harbaugh said. “I really don’t know where it’s at right now. Ray’s been in rehab mode, so he hasn’t been here from a football standpoint in terms of us seeing any of that yet. Just talking to Ray, it sounds like things have gone well. There have been no setbacks, so there’s a possibility.”
Fan response to Lewis’ potential return has been surprisingly mixed as some have pointed to the impressive play of Dannell Ellerbe and the overall improvement of the Baltimore defense without Lewis in recent weeks.
When asked whether the Ravens would be wise to show more patience before Lewis’ potential return, Harbaugh dismissed any notion or hint that they might be better off if he waited longer before trying to play.
“I think it’d be great to get Ray Lewis back,” Harbaugh said. “All of our guys would welcome Ray back with open arms if and when that happens. In the meantime, Ray is part of our defense just like Terrell Suggs is part of our defense. The whole thing is coming together — hopefully — better every week, and we could stumble at any time in this league. But adding a great player into the mix is only going to make us better.”
Dickson, Ellerbe “have a chance” to play against Pittsburgh
Harbaugh painted an uncertain picture for the chances of tight end Ed Dickson and Ellerbe returning to action against Pittsburgh after leaving Sunday’s game with injuries.
Dickson injured his knee in the second quarter against San Diego and didn’t return, leaving an expanded role to fellow tight end Dennis Pitta. Despite having a disappointing season as a receiver, Dickson is regarded as the better blocker as Pitta struggled on several occasions against the Chargers.
“Ed has a bruised knee — a sprained knee,” Harbaugh said. “It’s nothing major in terms of ligament damage or anything like that. He’ll have a chance to get back this week. It just depends on how it goes and how well it heals.”
Ellerbe also left Sunday’s game in the second quarter with a foot injury and was replaced by the combination of former practice-squad member Josh Bynes and veteran special-teams standout Brendon Ayanbadejo.
The latter performed well in Ellerbe’s absence, recording four tackles and a pass defense in the 16-13 overtime win.
“Dannell Ellerbe has kind of a foot-ankle thing,” Harbaugh said. “He’s got a little swelling in there. He’ll have a chance to get back this week too, and we’ll just have to see how it goes. The practice for those two guys will be very limited this week, and we’ll try to get them to the game on Sunday.”
After missing his fourth straight game on Sunday, defensive end Pernell McPhee is expected to practice once again this week as he continues to recuperate from knee and thigh injuries. The second-year defensive lineman hasn’t played since the Houston game on Oct. 21.
Starting in McPhee’s place, third-year lineman Arthur Jones registered the first two sacks of his NFL career against the Chargers and finished the game with five tackles.
“He should be at practice this week, and we’ll be hopeful that he can play,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll have to see.”
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