OWINGS MILLS - As recently as two weeks ago, Ravens tight end Ed Dickson expressed skepticism regarding his availability for Baltimore's regular season opener against the Denver Broncos because of the partially torn hamstring he suffered Aug. 4.
At the time, Dickson said the hamstring was still sore and there was no clear timetable for when he would be able to return to game action.
Since then, Dickson has returned to practice and has apparently made progress with the hamstring in the week since returning to the practice field.
Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said last week that Dickson's hamstring had "really taken a turn for the better," and offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said Monday that Dickson's injured hamstring is coming along.
"Ed's looked good," Caldwell said. "He's running well. He's catching the ball well. He looks just as explosive as he did a few weeks ago before he was injured."
Dickson is likely going to be depended on to play a primary role in the Ravens' offense this year. He looked poised to take on a bigger role even before fellow tight end Dennis Pitta suffered a long-term hip injury early in training camp, but he's of even greater importance to the offense now with Pitta sidelined.
Fortunately for Baltimore, the likelihood of Dickson playing Sept. 5 against the Broncos appears much greater than it did two weeks ago.
The Ravens' decision to release veteran tight end Visanthe Shiancoe Sunday could also be a sign that the team is confident regarding Dickson's Week 1 availability.
TIGHT BATTLE: Gino Gradkowski is considered the favorite to win Baltimore's starting center job by most outside the Ravens' organization, but Caldwell said Monday that Gradkowski's competition with A.Q. Shipley is ongoing.
"It's still a very, very competitive situation," Caldwell said. "Obviously nothing's been determined at this point, so it's still a battle going on. ... It's a real tight race."
Gradkowski and Shipley have shared time with the first-team offense throughout the summer, but Shipley struggled during the Ravens' second preseason game and Gradkowski got the start against the Panthers last week.
"He played tough," Caldwell said of Gradkowski said. "He played hard, [but] they both did. ... Both guys are quality guys that do what we ask them to do, can handle what we do in all phases - from an intellectual standpoint, from making calls and making certain we're in the right looks from a protection standpoint.
"And they can also hold their own in terms of one-on-one blocking and things of that nature that have to be done. It's a great problem to have."
SITTING OUT: Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee was sidelined for another practice reportedly because of an issue with his knee. McPhee has missed three straight practices dating back to last week and was sidelined for the Ravens' preseason game against the Carolina Panthers.
McPhee has a history of knee-related issues. He underwent two knee surgeries last offseason and was bothered by his knees throughout last season.
McPhee was moved to outside linebacker from the defensive line during the spring, and he's competing for a reserve job behind Terrell Suggs.
ALSO ABSENT: Defensive linemen Haloti Ngata and Arthur Jones both missed practice for a second consecutive day Monday. Harbaugh said Sunday that Ngata is dealing with a family issue.
The reason for Jones being absent is unclear.