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Forgotten Ravens: Life on the injured reserve

John Harbaugh stepped up to the podium at McDaniel College in Westminster and calmly delivered the bad news. "We lost Domonique Foxworth. Domonique tore his ACL," the Ravens coach said in late July after the first public practice of training camp. "He just planted the wrong way, and the thing popped."

Losing Foxworth was a major blow to the Ravens' Super Bowl mojo. But this is the NFL. Next man up.

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"I can't wait to see who steps up to fill that spot," Harbaugh said. "We're going to have a great defense."

Just like that, Baltimore found out that Foxworth's 2010 season was over before it started, and that he was headed to the injured reserve with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. The next day, at an impromptu press conference at the Westminster Best Western that felt like a funeral, Foxworth {photo by AP} fought off tears as he told reporters that he felt like he was letting his teammates down.

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More than five months later, the Ravens cornerback still feels the same way.

"The best way I can put it is that the feeling that you have after a bad game that might have cost your team the game, I feel that way every week, every time I walk in [the locker room]," Foxworth said last month, the heartbreak in his voice reverberating through the phone line. "Every now and then, guys will say, 'We miss you out there,' and I know they mean it in a good way, but it just feels like a turn of the knife. Of course I want to be out there."

Once ailing Ravens, such as Foxworth, are placed on injured reserve, there is no turning back. Following surgery or whatever else the doctor ordered for these forgotten men, they recoup, regroup then recalibrate their focus on getting better, harder, faster and stronger for the following season. It's a painful process, physically, mentally and emotionally.

"You train all offseason ... and then you get hurt. It's a tough pill to swallow," said defensive tackle Kelly Gregg, who missed the entire 2008 season with a knee injury. "You realize it's not going to get any better, so you have to bite the bullet and get it fixed. ... It takes a lot of will for guys to come back."

The team has placed three regulars on injured reserve this season: Foxworth, offensive tackle Jared Gaither (thoracic disk) and long snapper Morgan Cox (torn ACL). Their seasons are done, even if they become healthy enough to play in the team's playoff run, which starts Sunday in Kansas City. Sergio Kindle (fractured skull) was placed on the reserve non-football injury list, ending his season, after the rookie linebacker fractured his skull during an off-the-field accident in July. And the Ravens placed three roster bubble boys -- offensive tackle Ramon Harewood, center Daniel Sanders and defensive tackle Kelly Talavou -- on IR after the preseason, a common move that ensured the team retained the players' rights.

Shut-down Ravens aren't required to rehab at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills, but many have over the years. And though players on the injured reserve don't buckle their chin straps every Sunday, they are told that they are still part of the team.

It just doesn't feel that way.

"As much as coaches and teammates try to make you feel like you're a part of the team, you're definitely not," Foxworth said. "Those people are the ones who go out and play on the weekend. I haven't played in one game this year. I'm definitely not a part of the team. I don't feel like I am."

But Foxworth wants to make sure his teammates see him "in there working hard like they are," so the 27-year-old Maryland graduate often arrives at the facility at 7 a.m. -- hours before his teammates -- and rehabs his knee until midday. Foxworth does "a lot of lifting" (squats in particular) and "functional-type work" ("It's the same kind of stuff I would do on the field, but it's not at the same rate," he explained). And three weeks ago, he ran sprints with local media present.

They didn't see all the gritty, painful behind-the-scenes work, like Foxworth busting his tail for two weeks just so he could bend his knee to 90 degrees or take stairs without hopping. He said that's the demoralizing part, that if he were healthy, he could have spent that time elsewhere.

"I might have added 50 pounds to my squat with the amount of hard work I put in, in the morning," he said. Instead, all he can do is make what often feels like indiscernible progress from the previous day. "Psychologically, it's really tough," the Randallstown native said. "You go from being a pretty good athlete and being able to do just about anything you want with your body to not being able to do anything."

Watching the Ravens on Sundays also takes an emotional toll. "It's pretty miserable," said Foxworth, who was on the sideline at home games but didn't travel on road trips. It's sure to get worse this weekend when his fellow cornerbacks try to shut down Chiefs Pro Bowl wideout Dwayne Bowe with the season on the line.

Marshal Yanda can appreciate what Foxworth and other fallen comrades are going through. The offensive guard/tackle suffered a season-ending knee injury during the 2008 season and was idle as the Ravens went to the AFC championship game without him. "I was so happy to see them do really well, but it was really tough on me to have to sit back and watch."

The same goes for cornerback Lardarius Webb, who tore his ACL a year ago, just when his rookie season was starting to take off. "[The injury] taught me about fighting through adversity," he said. Webb is healthy now, and tries to pick up the slack for Foxworth on the field and lift the spirit of "our top cornerback" off it.

Inconsolable at first, Foxworth now sees silver linings.

As an executive committee member of the NFL Players Association, Foxworth is helping the union brace for labor Armageddon. His non-profit, Baltimore BORN, has also benefited. And he has had more time to spend with his new wife, Ashley, (they got hitched this summer) and their new daughter, Avery (born Dec. 2).

"You just try to find the blessings even in the bad things that happen to you," he said.

Foxworth plans on returning as a smarter, stronger cornerback, and the Ravens training staff has told him that he is ahead of schedule. "I think I'm getting pretty close to being able to play," Foxworth said last month, a tinge of swagger in his voice. "But I don't know if Bill T. [trainer Bill Tessendorf] would say the same thing."

Foxworth and most of the Ravens' other players on the injured reserve will be back next season, better than ever, they hope. Until then, they are forgotten men.

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