Ravens left defensive end Rob Burnett took a shot to his right knee in the waning minutes of Sunday's 27-10 loss in St. Louis, and at first, the injury did not seem significant.
But yesterday, Burnett did not practice, was downgraded from probable to questionable for Sunday's home opener against Pittsburgh and spent part of the day getting X-rays that proved negative.
Burnett might practice today, although head trainer Bill Tessendorf is in a wait-and-see mode.
"Sunday is what [owner] Art [Modell] pays him for, so we want to be conservative and ultra-safe with Rob," Tessendorf said.
Tessendorf said Burnett suffered the injury -- to the same knee in which he tore ligaments and missed the last 10 games of 1996 -- with about four minutes to go in the game.
"He had some soreness, a bruised patella," Tessendorf said. "What happened, as time went on, was he developed more tenderness in it. In Rob's mind, he's going to [practice today]. We're going to wait and see on that one."
Speaking of injuries
Yesterday marked the first time in nearly five weeks that left guard James Atkins practiced. Atkins, originally slated to start, lost his job to Everett Lindsay after tearing his right hamstring during training camp.
Atkins worked only in the individual drills yesterday. He said he expects to work in team drills today, and he could be activated on Sunday as a backup.
"I want to see if I can push and pull [on the line] and if my leg can hold up," Atkins said. "I'll know more by [today].
"I was playing well. I probably would have been a starter if I hadn't gotten hurt. I wanted to show my boys [on the line] that I would be part of this for more than just one year. But that's life. Once I get my technique down and get back into football shape, I'll be all right."
Left tackle Jonathan Ogden (hip) did not practice, but said he expected to work out today. Running back Priest Holmes (knee) also worked on a limited basis, and he expects to go all-out today. Wide receiver Patrick Johnson (calf) practiced and said he thinks he is on track to play Sunday after sitting out the opener.
The Ravens practiced in the rain on the artificial turf field at their Owings Mills facility yesterday. Had a thunderstorm with lightning rolled through the area, they would have been forced to exit the field and hone their preparation for the Steelers in the meeting room.
Ravens coach Brian Billick is uncomfortable with the idea of preparing for any game without physically going through the game-plan motions.
"If we didn't need to be on the field, physically practicing, we wouldn't do it," Billick said. "We would just go through meetings, stay healthy, then go out and play the game. That's awfully tough to do."
Ismail gets the ball
Wide receiver Qadry Ismail is tied for the team lead with four receptions, good for 46 yards. That's four more passes than Ismail caught in 1997 and 1998 combined.
Ismail, 6 feet, 190 pounds, is in his seventh season, having been drafted by Minnesota in the second round in 1993.
After catching 118 passes for 1,856 yards and 12 touchdowns over four seasons with the Vikings, Ismail spent the past two seasons almost exclusively as a kickoff returner.
With the Dolphins in 1997, he played in three games and returned eight kickoffs. With New Orleans last year, he played in 10 games, returned 28 kickoffs for 590 yards and once again did not catch a pass.
Ismail's training camp got off to an inauspicious beginning, as he dropped a slew of passes. He began his rebound midway through camp, finished strong in the preseason and secured his place in the starting lineup.
"I really believe these last two years were a situation where I just wasn't in the right place. Some of that, rightly so, had to do with me," said Ismail, 28. "At the same time, not being in the right place, whether it's a management decision or a coach's decision or whatever, has something to do with it. Right now, I'm feeling as good as I've felt since Day One."
On Day One of Ismail's career, he was introduced to Billick, who became the Vikings' offensive coordinator in 1993 and eventually made his way to Baltimore for his first head coaching job.
Ismail's best year working with Billick was in 1994, when he caught 45 passes for 696 yards and five touchdowns.
"It's not like I'm some return guy who can't deal with the pressure of being a wide receiver. I know how to play receiver," Ismail said. "Brian knew that going into this thing. I've had game-winning touchdowns. I've been the third-down receiver who has made a clutch, first-down catch. I've sent games into overtime. I've won games in overtime. I know I have a lot of ability."
Billick said one of the reasons his offense will need more time to jell is the amount of players in the lineup, including Ismail, who have not played much lately. Quarterback Scott Mitchell spent the last 14 games on the bench in Detroit in 1998. Tight end Aaron Pierce did not play in 1998. Wide receiver Justin Armour caught one pass between 1996 and 1998.
Cowher not overconfident
Steelers coach Bill Cowher is insisting his team won't take the Ravens lightly. He won't even agree with Billick that the Ravens didn't play with intensity in St. Louis.
"I think they did play with intensity," Cowher said. "The opener on the road is not easy. The Ravens are a good football team. They have high expectations. There are a lot of winners on that football team. It's a long season. I don't think you can overreact to any one game. This will be a good test for us."
The Ravens will present a seminar called on Football 101 at PSINet Stadium from 6: 30 to 9 p.m. on Sept. 21.
Ravens players, some of the team's football staff and Ravens- zone TV host Lisa Levine will teach people how to watch and understand football. There will also be an equipment demonstration by manager Ed Carroll. Attendees will receiver workshop materials, a stadium tour voucher and light refreshments.
Tickets are limited and can be reserved by calling 410-261-RAVE by Sept. 20.
Sun staff writer Vito Stellino contributed to this article.
Pub Date: 9/16/99