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Absence of starters eases concern over special teams woes

Ravens special teams coordinator Gary Zauner has a simple explanation as to how his punt-team unit could give up an 87-yard touchdown to the Buffalo Bills' Antonio Brown late in the fourth quarter of Saturday night's game.

"Their third team was better than our third team," Zauner said.

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To call Brown, a rookie free agent out of West Virginia, third-string might be stretching it. His name is not even listed on the Bills' depth chart as a returner, and the touchdown proved to be the winning score.

After reviewing the tape, Zauner was not fretting.

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"We probably have two or three guys on that [punt] team that will be on our 45," Zauner said. "I'm always worried when something bad happens, but I also look at who is there. Maybe two or three of those guys will be on the roster, and they did their jobs."

The Ravens also gave up kickoff returns of 43 and 29 yards, but receiver Milton Wynn partially blocked a punt in the fourth quarter to help salvage the night.

Because of injuries, the Ravens were without many of their better special teams players.

"We've had an unbelievable amount of injuries, and a lot of them have pertained to special teams," Zauner said. "Javin Hunter, Bernardo Harris, [Ray] Perryman, then Cornell Brown and Harold Morrow. We probably have 10 guys that could be playing."

Rookie kickoff returner Hugh Smith hurt his shoulder and will be sidelined two weeks. Smith averaged 22.4 yards on five kickoff returns against the Bills. Fellow returner Lamont Brightful (knee) is expected to return this week.

Smith also returns punts, but in his absence safety Ed Reed fielded most of the punts in practice yesterday.

"If it were the season, you might see Ed Reed back there if we really needed it," Zauner said.

Injury total rises

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Despite running one of the lighter physical training camps in the league, 15 players did not participate in the morning session yesterday because of injury. Linebacker Ed Hartwell got poked in the eye and did not return.

"We have not changed anything. You know the way we conduct camp," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "It's just the way things have went down."

Of the injuries, only Harris (leg), Trent Smith (leg) and Hunter (Achilles' tendon) are certain to miss the regular-season opener at Pittsburgh.

On the mend

The Ravens got some good news in the return of offensive tackle Orlando Brown, who said he expects to play Saturday night in Atlanta.

Running back Musa Smith (knee) may also return to practice sometime this week.

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"They said it was a four-week healing process, and I'm just out here day-to-day trying to work it out and get the full range of motion back," Smith said.

A case for Bolling

Despite defensive tackle Nate Bolling registering three sacks and leading the team with six tackles against Buffalo, Jamal Lewis' name flashed across the scoreboard at M&T; Bank Stadium as the Player of the Game. Lewis had 15 yards and a touchdown on six carries.

"I was saying that we need a recall vote," Bolling said. "We're not in California, but we need a recall."

Bolling, who won a Player of the Game award in a preseason game last year, spent much of last season on the practice squad.

"It's a good start, just like last year," Bolling said. "I just have to keep the momentum going the next few games."

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Rainy day

The Ravens' luck in avoiding rain during practice ran out yesterday.

The morning session had a heavy, steady rain throughout with a couple of claps of thunder. Billick ended the practice about 20 minutes early.

"I'll tell you what I like about it: They, under bad conditions, had to gain focus, particularly in the way we ended practice on a day that you would rather not be out here," Billick said. "I'm sure they are tired and sore, but we got some things done."

Three waived

The Ravens waived quarterback Grant Noel and kicker Dan Nystrom. The team also reached an injury settlement with safety Antwoine Sanders, a seventh-round pick out of Utah, and waived him.

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Noel did not play in Saturday night's game, and Nystrom missed an extra-point try in the fourth quarter, which proved to be the margin of victory for the Bills.


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