By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun
7:49 PM EDT, August 29, 2011
Ravens center Matt Birk expects to start against the Pittsburgh Steelers, barring any setbacks.
Birk had surgery on his left knee Aug. 3, which has sidelined him for the first three preseason games. The six-time Pro Bowl player returned to practice Saturday and participated in team drills for the first time Monday.
Asked whether the Sept. 11 season opener was a realistic target date for him, Birk said: "I think so. Hopefully, you won't have any setbacks. But if everything progresses like we hope, yeah."
It's unknown whether Birk will play in Thursday's preseason finale at Atlanta. He also is unsure whether the surgery will stop issues with his knee throughout the season.
"I'm not really in touch with my body," Birk said with a smile. "Like I said, it feels good now. But who knows what is going to happen? It's a long season. A lot of things happen. Hopefully, the worst is behind me."
Birk was light-hearted throughout his chat with reporters. When asked whether he is regaining his agility, Birk said: "Yeah, but that's a relative word for me. I wouldn't say I felt real agile before. It's feeling good. It's all about getting the work in and seeing how it holds up and how it responds. Just take it day by day.
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said Birk "looked good" at practice.
"He'll get a couple more practices under his belt, but you could stand here all day and talk about the great things about Matt Birk — how smart and tough he is," Cameron said. "We need Matt Birk."
Evans to return 'pretty quick'
The Ravens aren't publicly expressing concern over wide receiver Lee Evans' missing his second straight practice.
Evans wore a protective boot on his left foot Saturday and wasn't at practice Monday. He leads Ravens receivers with 128 yards receiving.
"He's in meetings, and he's bouncing around pretty good," Cameron said. "I don't know the exact timetable, but we would like to think he's coming back pretty quick."
Evans has been one of the most durable wide receivers in the NFL. He hasn't missed a game in six of his seven NFL seasons.
No decision on starters
Cameron said the Ravens haven't decided on the amount of playing time for quarterback Joe Flacco and the starting offensive line for Thursday's preseason finale.
The retooled line of left tackle Bryant McKinnie, left guard Ben Grubbs, Birk, right guard Marshal Yanda and right tackle Michael Oher has been working together only since Saturday, which might suggest that the front five needs game experience.
But that's not necessarily the case, according to Cameron.
"The most important thing for me is how we practice," he said Monday. "Going against our defense is, for the most part and in a lot of ways, better than any preseason game that we play. Now, with that being said, I think in the next couple days, we're going to decide what is in our best interest. I think [coach John Harbaugh's] got some feelings on that, but I think we've said, 'Let's just wait and see.' We want everybody ready to play, and then I think we'll make some kind of decision in the next couple of days."
Flacco hasn't played in the final preseason game the past two seasons.
Being 'smart' with Foxworth
The Ravens are going to be cautious with the number of snaps given to cornerback Domonique Foxworth.
A year removed from knee surgery that sidelined him all last season, Foxworth hasn't looked like the same cornerback from the 2009 season. In the first quarter of last week's preseason game, he gave up a 14-yard pass to Santana Moss and was beaten by Anthony Armstrong on a 33-yard pass.
"We have to be smart with him as far as how we use him and the number of reps we give him," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. "Hopefully, that will start to come around and eventually be 100 percent."
An NFL Players Association executive committee member, Foxworth played an integral part in ending the four-month NFL lockout, which has been a factor in his comeback.
"The time away was a major detriment to Fox. That set him back," Pagano said. "He's just got to keep his nose to the grindstone and keep pushing."
The Ravens have $2.3 million in salary cap space, according to Pro Football Talk. There are only seven teams that have less room. … In addition to Evans, cornerback Chris Carr (left hamstring), offensive tackle Mark LeVoir (unspecified) and running back Matt Lawrence (unspecified) were not present during the portion of practice open to the media. Birk, Yanda (back spasms) and wide receiver James Hardy (hamstring) participated. … The Ravens lost yardage on 107 offensive plays last season, tying the Seattle Seahawks for third most in the NFL, according to STATS LLC.
Baltimore Sun reporter Edward Lee contributed to this article.
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