The Ravens are rapidly running out of offensive tackles. Healthy ones, that is.
The latest casualty is backup Spencer Folau, who is the third tackle on the team's depth chart. Folau injured his right knee in Sunday's practice, appeared yesterday wearing a knee brace and said he would not be ready to play until the Oct. 31 game against the Buffalo Bills at the earliest.
Folau, who was expected to replace right tackle Harry Swayne (leg injury, questionable) this week -- Swayne did not practice yesterday -- was listed as doubtful for Thursday night's game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Meanwhile, left tackle Jonathan Ogden (sprained neck) remains questionable, though Ogden practiced yesterday for the second consecutive day.
Folau's misfortune forced the Ravens to use James Atkins at right tackle in yesterday's practice. Originally the team's starting left guard, Atkins has recovered from a hamstring injury that he suffered two months ago in training camp. He has yet to play in 1999.
"I sprained an MCL [medial collateral ligament]," Folau said. "I don't think there's any chance [of playing Thursday against the Chiefs]. Maybe Buffalo. I've never been hurt before. It must be a right tackle jinx."
Ravens coach Brian Billick called Folau's injury "a little tweak."
"Right now, we don't have a healthy tackle," Billick said. "It's funny how the injuries seem to happen at the same position. That happens to team after team."
The Ravens are counting on Ogden to start against the Chiefs. If Ogden falters, left guard Everett Lindsay would shift to left tackle, with Mike Flynn moving in as Lindsay's replacement.
Folau was working at Ogden's left tackle spot when he suffered his knee injury.
"I was blocking and someone threw someone else into the side of my leg," Folau said. "We were repeating a play. Some guys were going at half speed and some guys were going at full speed. It's unfortunate."
Kansas City's visit will mark the return of former Ravens wide receiver Derrick Alexander.
In the Ravens' four-year history, no other receiver has been as productive. Alexander, originally drafted in the first round out of Michigan by the Cleveland Browns in 1994, produced 2,108 yards and 18 touchdowns during two years in Baltimore while making 27 starts and appearing in 30 of a possible 32 games. He left the Ravens to sign a five-year deal with the Chiefs after the 1997 season.
"I'm looking forward to coming back, and I'm looking forward to playing in that new stadium," said Alexander, who leads the Chiefs with 21.1 yards a reception. He has 18 catches, including one for a touchdown.
"I'd love to have a big game," Alexander said. "I don't think I need to prove anything to them. I think they know what type of person I am and what type of receiver I am. There will be an opportunity to let them see what got away."
Alexander fell out of favor with former coach Ted Marchibroda, first by being late for several team meetings, then by dropping passes in practice and in games.
"[Marchibroda] had his ways. He singled out a few guys. I felt like I was one of the guys who got singled out," Alexander said. "You've just got to move on."
When asked about his chances of making a big play against Ravens cornerbacks DeRon Jenkins, Chris McAlister or Duane Starks, Alexander said, "There should be some opportunities to do some things and make some plays."
Billick wanted Cunningham
If Gunther Cunningham hadn't been promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach in Kansas City, where he replaced Marty Schottenheimer, Cunningham very well could have ended up with the Ravens as the defensive coordinator.
He was Billick's first choice. After Cunningham was named as Schottenheimer's replacement, Billick decided to re-hire Marvin Lewis, the only coach retained from Marchibroda's staff.
Billick said he and Cunningham have similarities, beginning with their emotional demeanors on the sidelines.
"I pale in comparison to Gunther. If Gunther had come with us, the sideline would not have been for the meek and the mild," Billick said. "Gunther has more fire and more adverbs and adjectives than I do. I respect his intensity and his approach to the game. We're both very hands-on.
"Their style of play has Gunther written all over it. [They say] we're going to run the ball, play good defense and we're going to win the tight games on sheer tenacity."
Billick said he could envision a slugfest with the Chiefs, in which each team tries to one-up the other with effective running games. The Ravens are averaging 116.2 rushing yards, 11th in the league. The Chiefs are averaging 135 yards, fourth in the NFL.
Both defenses could spend considerable time stacking the line of scrimmage with seven or eight players to stop the run.
Billick hinted that the play of safeties Kim Herring and Rod Woodson, whether it's assisting the run defense or helping the young cornerbacks in pass coverage, could go a long way toward deciding whether the Ravens win or lose against the Chiefs.
"As far as putting an extra safety in the box [close to the line of scrimmage between the tackles], you have to do it intelligently so you don't expose yourself on the outside," Billick said.
"I think our secondary has been communicating better each week. Rod and Kim are definitely understanding they've got to make their [coverage] calls clearly with the cornerbacks, because they've left them out to dry a couple of times."
Ravens players, including Starks, Jermaine Lewis, Jeff Mitchell, Errict Rhett, Keith Washington, James Trapp, Pat Johnson, A. J. Ofodile and Rob Burnett, will serve dinner tonight to residents of the Christopher Place Employment Academy in Baltimore as part of the inaugural "NFL and United Way Hometown Huddle," a national community service project based in all 31 NFL cities The Ravens have not allowed more than 55 yards rushing by any running back this year. Rookie safety Anthony Poindexter is scheduled to make his first practice appearance today. Poindexter, a seventh-round draft pick, is recovering from a serious knee injury that he suffered a year ago at Virginia.