By Aaron Wilson
The Baltimore Sun
10:08 PM EDT, September 25, 2013
Ravens star running back Ray Rice practiced Wednesday on a limited basis and said he plans to play Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, mapping out his return after missing one game with a strained left hip flexor.
Although Rice was regarded as close to playing during a 30-9 victory last weekend over the Houston Texans, he was held out for a week as he rehabbed from the injury .
“Very hopeful,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said when asked if Rice will practice all week. “We're going to see what he can do, and we'll have our fingers crossed.”
Without Rice, who rushed for only 72 yards on 25 carries in the first two games of the season, the Ravens' running game sputtered against the Texans.
“Having Ray back means a lot to this offense,” fullback Vonta Leach said. “It would mean we got another back who can hit holes. We should be hitting on all cylinders.”
Backup runner Bernard Pierce was limited to a hard-fought 65 yards and one touchdown on 24 carries against the Texans.
The Ravens are now ranked 25th in rushing offense, averaging 77.3 yards per game. They're 31st overall in average per carry, picking up 2.6 yards per rush.
Rice seemed to move without any difficulty or pain during the portion of practice open to reporters.
“Ray is getting better,” Pierce said. “Hopefully, he'll be out there with us Sunday. It looks like their defensive line is pretty stout.”
The Bills have been vulnerable against the run and are tied for 30th in the NFL in run defense, surrendering 155 rushing yards per game. In the Bills' loss Sunday, New York Jets running back Bilal Powell ran roughshod over the Bills for a career-high 149 yards on 27 carries.
“They've got a lot of good guys, but when you look at the film you see one or two breakdowns and somebody might hit a big run on them,” Leach said. “They've been stopping the run consistently the more I look at tape.”
The Ravens' longest runs this season are a 25-yarder for Pierce and a 14-yarder for Rice.
"Yeah, we need to run the ball better," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "We need to clean a couple of things up. When you look at the film, we're really close.
"We're blocking things well. A lot of those runs are so close to hitting. If we continue to do what we do and just mix it up a little bit, then we'll start hitting some runs."
Canty on the mend
Starting defensive lineman Chris Canty was back practicing on a limited basis after being sidelined for the Texans game.
"Yeah, I feel pretty good," Canty said. "It's just Harbs pulling these [San Antonio Spurs coach] Gregg Popovich impersonations, resting the old guys. I'm going to run around a bit with the guys, try to make sure I see as much of the first- and second-down plan that we have. Hopefully, I'll have an opportunity to be out on the field Sunday."
Wide receiver Deonte Thompson (sprained left foot), inside linebacker Arthur Brown (strained left pectoral) and defensive tackle Brandon Williams (right big toe) returned, but were limited.
Offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie wasn't listed on the injury report, but was limping slightly with his right foot and didn't take his normal practice workload.
The Ravens officially ruled out Pro Bowl kick returner Jacoby Jones for the third consecutive game due to a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
Wide receiver Marlon Brown (neck), nose tackle Terrence Cody (sprained left knee), center Ryan Jensen (foot surgery), running back Shaun Draughn (high-ankle sprain) and rush linebacker Pernell McPhee
(knee) didn't practice.
Offensive line adjusting
The biggest change to the Ravens' offensive line happened after Super Bowl XLVII when six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk retired.
The Ravens have been getting accustomed to new center Gino Gradkowski, who's still learning on the job and building chemistry with his teammates through three games.
"It's just going to be a work in progress as far as Gino and us coming together and working together with the calls," Pro Bowl offensive guard Marshal Yanda said. "Gino isn't going to be Matt. Obviously, Matt was playing for 15 years and he could make calls with his eyes blindfolded.
"So, we're going to give Gino a little bit of slack obviously because it's his second year. I think back when I was in my second year, things coming at you pretty fast. He's making all the calls. I think he's doing a great job. I think he's got a great attitude. He works hard every day and I think he's just going to keep getting better."
¿The Ravens cut linebacker Brandon Copeland (Gilman) from the practice squad. ... The Ravens brought in former Dallas Cowboys safety Eric Frampton for a visit Tuesday, according to a league source. Frampton, 29, wasn't immediately signed to a contract. Frampton was recently removed from the Cowboys' injured reserve list when they reached an injury settlement with him for a groin injury. ... Among the key Bills players who didn't practice: defensive end Mario Williams (ankle), wide receiver Stevie Johnson (hamstring), cornerback Leodis McKelvin (hamstring) and defensive tackle Kyle Williams (Achilles). Free safety Jairus Byrd (foot) and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus (ankle) were limited.