The emotional moment that Ravens inside linebacker Jameel McClain had long awaited finally arrived Wednesday when he rejoined his teammates on the practice field.
Ten months after suffering a spinal cord contusion that had endangered his NFL career, McClain returned to practice for the first time. McClain gained medical clearance last week when his latest magnetic resonance imaging exam revealed no more signs of the bruising damage sustained during a hit last December against the Washington Redskins.
“They tried to kill me, I’m not dead,” said McClain, who remains on the reserve-physically unable to perform list. “I’m still here, still doing what I love and fighting for this team.”
McClain said he could barely sleep when he first learned Tuesday that he was going to be allowed to practice Wednesday. Countless rehabilitation sessions and months of patience were about to be rewarded.
“I was like a little kid,” McClain said. “I was tossing and turning, thinking about my first day of practice.”
During such a long convalescence, McClain had to deal with plenty of conflicting medical information and many questions about whether he would ever play again.
“There was so much negativity that I couldn’t afford to think negative,” McClain said. “All I could do was believe in myself and what I was capable of doing. Whether it was coming in as an undrafted free agent or coming back from an injury so many people thought I couldn’t come back from, I fought the odds. I always had belief in myself in a world of negativity.”
McClain is now eligible to be placed on the active roster as he enters a three-week window for a decision to be made on him. The Ravens can either activate him, place him on injured reserve or waive him. He's expected to eventually contribute to the defense in games.
McClain was listed on the injury report as a full participant in practice. The Ravens are expected to take a cautious approach and allow McClain more time to test himself in practice before determining his status going forward.
“We don’t know what that means for this week, next week or the week after,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We do know that it means within three weeks we have to make a decision about whether we put him on the 53-man roster.”
A starter for the past three seasons, McClain emphasized that he feels great physically while acknowledging there’s a significant amount of rust to shed.
“We all know the game is different watching it on film than being in the cleats,” McClain said. “I’ve got to get the groove for that with the team. If you ask me, I’m ready right now. The organization isn’t rushing me. The injury is gone. That’s past me.”
It remains unclear how McClain would be utilized once he's activated with Daryl Smith entrenched as the starting middle linebacker. Josh Bynes has been productive as the starting weak-side inside linebacker opposite Smith, but hasn’t generated big plays.
“I just fit in as a football player like I always fit in,” McClain said. “I’ll come in and play how I play when given the opportunity. I know I’ve got to come back and work just like everybody else comes back and works.”
Breaking through coverage, conversation
Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith doesn't traditionally engage in trash talking with opposing cornerbacks.
In the case of outspoken Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, though, Smith makes an exception. Taylor has a knack for drawing receivers into a running conversation.
“I haven't met anyone that talks as much trash as him,” Smith said. “When I get to play him, it's always pretty fun because I'm not a guy who talks, but he gets it out of me every single time."
Smith caught one pass for seven yards last season while being shadowed by Taylor during a Ravens win at Heinz Field. He caught three passes for 33 yards against the Steelers in a loss at M&T Bank Stadium.
"I have a lot of respect for him," Smith said. "Obviously, he's been one of the top corners in the game for a while. You know he's going to bring it, and you have to bring your 'A' game as well."
Bynes didn’t practice due to an infected finger that hospitalized him Tuesday night, but he is expected back soon.
“He got good news,” Harbaugh said. “It’s clearing up.”
Backup nose tackle Terrence Cody returned to practice from a sprained left knee sustained against the Houston Texans and was limited.
Defensive end Chris Canty (groin) and inside linebacker Albert McClellan (sprained right shoulder) didn’t practice.
Nose tackle Haloti Ngata (left elbow), cornerback Chykie Brown (hamstring), center Ryan Jensen (foot surgery), outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw (foot) and cornerback Lardarius Webb (strained hamstring) were limited.
Ngata briefly left the game Sunday during a 19-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
“It wasn't bad enough to keep me out,” Ngata said.
Defensive end Marcus Spears (knee) and wide receiver Brandon Stokley (hip, groin) participated fully.
"Man, I feel pretty good," said Spears, who has been out the past two games. "I think the way we went about it was real smart.”
Blocking it out
New left tackle Eugene Monroe’s starting debut was marred when he surrendered a sack and forced fumble to Packers outside linebacker Nick Perry.
The blocking miscue led to a Packers field goal at the end of the first half.
“You always want to play a clean game and not get the quarterback touched,” Monroe said. “You have to be the guy who doesn’t let that happen.”
Although the Steelers have only seven sacks this season led by outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley’s four sacks, they're known for unpredictable pass rush schemes designed by the architect of the zone blitz: veteran defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
“Every team has their way of attacking an offense, and his way may be different than any other way,” Monroe said. “We’ll prepare and be ready.”
Running back auditioned
The Ravens worked out former Cincinnati Bengals running back Bernard Scott, according to a league source.
He wasn't immediately signed to a contract, though.
Scott, 29, hasn't played this season since being released by the Bengals. Last year, he played in two games Cincinnati and rushed for 35 yards on eight carries with a knee injury shortening his season.
In four NFL seasons, Scott has rushed for 1,035 yards and four touchdowns. He's caught 29 passes for 165 yards.
The Ravens' running game has struggled, but it's unclear if Scott would provide an upgrade. The Ravens have only two running backs on the active roster: Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce.
The Ravens converted only 2 of 14 third downs against the Packers and had eight three-and-out drives ending in Sam Koch punts. “The trend is that we’re not doing very well on first down, and we’re not doing very well on second down,” Harbaugh said. “We are putting ourselves in very long third-down situations. That’s made it very difficult.” … The Steelers ruled out wide receiver Markus Wheaton (finger) and rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones didn't practice due to a head injury. That's probably a concussion even though the Steelers made no official announcement of the nature of Jones' injury.