The Ravens' grim injury situation took another turn for the worse when starting middle linebacker Jameel McClain was ruled out of Sunday's game because of a neck stinger.
With middle linebacker Ray Lewis on the injured reserve-designated to return list after having surgery on his right triceps and starting inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe sidelined with a sprained right ankle, the Ravens are left with little depth at inside linebacker.
The only healthy inside linebackers are special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo, Josh Bynes and Albert McClellan, who shifted inside from outside linebacker before the Ravens' 31-28 overtime loss to the Washington Redskins.
For a defense playing without starting cornerback Lardarius Webb (torn anterior cruciate ligament, injured reserve) and Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (Achilles tendon surgery, torn right biceps) missing a large amount of time this season, new injuries is the last thing it needed..
“It's been tough,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “It's been as many injuries as we've probably ever had on defense here in the last five years, and I'm really proud of the guys.
“We have confidence in whoever we put out there. We are starting to get a little healthier, so it would be good to get some of those guys back.”
In the case of McClain, that definitely won't happen this week.
Although X-rays were determined to be negative, McClain experienced swelling and wasn't allowed to return Sunday. A magnetic resonance imaging exam confirmed the initial diagnosis.
“Jameel McClain will not make it to the game,” Harbaugh said. “We're taking a look at the neck-back. There's nothing major there, but he will not make it to this game. We're going to do some more tests and things like that just to see down the road where he'll be.”
And Lewis' status remains up in the air.
The two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year wasn't at practice Wednesday during the portion open to reporters. Ellerbe, strong safety Bernard Pollard (rib contusion), defensive end Arthur Jones (bruised shoulder), defensive end Pernell McPhee (groin) and Pro Bowl offensive guard Marshal Yanda were also missing.
“I'm not getting into percentages of that,” Harbaugh said. “I really don't know.”
Yanda is expected to miss this game with a serious sprained right ankle. He's not on crutches, but remains in a walking boot.
“I'm getting healthy as fast as possible, that's the plan,” Yanda said. “I'm going to treat it and get back as fast as possible.”
Before he injured his ankle against the San Diego Chargers, Ellerbe was emerging as one of the Ravens' top defensive playmakers. He recorded 78 tackles and had 4 1/2 sacks as the best inside blitzer on the defense.
After missing two games, Ellerbe said there's a chance he returns for the pivotal home game Sunday. However, there’s a better chance he'll return the following week against the New York Giants.
Ellerbe has been plagued by injuries, including a left foot problem that's not as serious as the ankle, a broken thumb and a sprained thumb.
“They need me out there making plays,” Ellerbe said. “They don't need me out there gimpy. ... That’s a terrible feeling, to see your guys out there fighting and trying to win the game. You can’t help them, and you know you’re an asset to the team, but you can’t go out there and help. It’s just something that is hard to deal with.”
If Ellerbe misses his third straight game, then the Ravens will likely go with a combination of Bynes and McClellan.
Bynes played a career-high 44 snaps against the Redskins and recorded a career-high five tackles, but also missed some tackles in the open field.
“I always prepare like I'm going to play, and I'm definitely going to play,” Bynes said. “I'll go out there and do what I have to do to win this game.”
Pollard has started every game this season, but is constantly bothered by a rib injury sustained in the second game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
If Pollard is out, then James Ihedigbo would start at strong safety opposite Ed Reed, facing Broncos star quarterback Peyton Manning and a talented receiving corps headlined by Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.
“It's just that time of year,” Ihedigbo said. “All hands are going to be on deck. Whatever is needed by me, I'm ready to do. Bernard is a fighter just like the rest of the guys.
“Who across the league isn't playing with pain? Injuries are a part of the game. It's a league where guys play hurt if necessary."