Bannan's absence was felt by team

The Baltimore Sun

Justin Bannan's absence from the Ravens' defensive line during the last six games of the 2006 season barely registered outside the team's practice field and locker room, given his role backing up starting tackles Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata.

Not that Bannan's injury went unnoticed.

"When we lost Justin last year, that was one of those subtle things that kind of went under the radar for a lot of people," Ravens coach Brian Billick said this week. "But that hurt us a lot when we lost Justin. He was playing very well for us, and those 10, 12, 15 snaps he might make for us are huge."

Bannan has recovered from a badly dislocated big toe on his left foot and has played extensively in the team's first three preseason games because of injuries suffered by Gregg and Ngata in training camp.

Even with the starters playing together for the first time this preseason tomorrow night in Atlanta, Bannan said the experience he received as a temporary starter has been invaluable.

"To me, that's the way I want it to be; you want to play against the best at all times because it's going to make your level come up," Bannan said Tuesday. "That's what camp is for, to raise your level and get back in the swing of things."

What galled him the most about having his season cut short was missing the regular-season finale against the Buffalo Bills. Bannan was drafted by the Bills out of Colorado and played four seasons there before signing last year as a free agent in Baltimore.

"I was looking forward to that game all year," said Bannan, who will get another chance when the Ravens visit Buffalo on Oct. 21.

Koch (almost) comfortable

Second-year punter Sam Koch doesn't feel totally secure with his position, but that's more a byproduct of the position he plays rather than his status on the team.

Koch is certainly more relaxed than he was as a rookie, when he came in as a sixth-round draft choice out of Nebraska and beat out Leo Araguz.

"First of all, I never feel settled, just for the fact that's the way the NFL is, but I'm a little more calm about this year compared to last year because I've proven myself to be on the team and I just got to keep on proving it," Koch said yesterday. "It makes my job a little easier."

Koch, who averaged 43 yards on 86 punts during the regular season and 38 yards on five punts in the playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts, appears to have strengthened his leg in the offseason. He is averaging nearly 47 yards on 12 punts during the preseason.

"You work on the things you can do in practice and go out there and do them in a game," Koch said. "You don't think about all the bad things that can happen. You trust the work you've done throughout the game."

Quiet homecomings

Neither Atlanta native Daniel Wilcox nor P.J. Daniels, who played at Georgia Tech, expect to have many friends or family members at the game, for different reasons.

Daniels is on injured reserve with a strained hamstring. Wilcox, who has missed the first three preseason games because of a sprained ankle, said that he has better things to do with the money he used to spend on tickets.

"Usually I would, but this time I told them no. I just got engaged, so I'm trying to save money and worry about the wedding next," said Wilcox, who sat out practice yesterday but hopes to play against the Falcons.

Daniels seemed disappointed about not being able to play in his college town.

"You take away something that you worked for for so long, and everything you did in the spring, you feel like you did it for no reason," said Daniels, who never suited up for a game as a rookie in 2006. "I'll look at it as a positive thing, and come back next year way more crisp."

Reed back

Safety Ed Reed, who suffered a thigh bruise against the Washington Redskins in Saturday's weather-shortened defeat at FedEx Field, returned to practice yesterday after missing Monday's and Tuesday's workouts. Reed said after practice that he plans to play tomorrow.

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