Gaither back, ready to prove himself

The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens received good news about their quarterback situation yesterday. No, they didn't sign Aaron Brooks or Daunte Culpepper, but they did announce that starting left offensive tackle Jared Gaither would begin practicing.

It's not as earth-shattering as Jonathan Ogden coming out of retirement, but the Ravens could have their entire starting offensive line on the field for the first time Thursday night against the Atlanta Falcons.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh appreciated the news. So did quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Kyle Boller. But no one was happier than Gaither, who has been out since the first week of training camp with a high ankle sprain.

"It's been frustrating," said Gaither, the former Maryland standout in his second year. "I was out there at the beginning of camp and things were going good. Then I go down with an injury.

"But things happen for a reason," Gaither said. "It's not what happens, but how you react to things. I've been doing a good job rehabbing and am looking forward to practicing with my team again."

With Gaither back, the experiment continues. When the Ravens selected him with the 31st pick in the fifth round of the 2007 supplemental draft, he was labeled a project.

Last season as a rookie, he played in six games and started two. When Ogden announced his retirement shortly before training camp this year, Gaither was named as his replacement.

Now, the clock is ticking again as far as Gaither living up to his potential.

"I'm just trying to make progress," Gaither said. "I'm nowhere near where I want to be. Right now, my goal is to get better each day."

Gaither has the physical tools. He is 6 feet 9 and weighs 330 pounds. He's got long arms that enable him to keep defensive linemen away from his body, and trying to speed rush him to the outside can be exhaustive.

Gaither has good explosion, athleticism and a nasty little mean streak. But he is also stiff and often stays too high. He lacks toughness and a strong work ethic. A good, strong year in the weight room would do wonders for his body.

But maybe Gaither learned his lesson while sitting on the bench. Soon after he was hurt, he got chewed out by offensive line coach John Matsko for coming to practice late after finishing his rehabilitation.

Gaither has been on time ever since.

"Coach Matsko is a great teacher," Gaither said. "You work hard to live up to his expectations. I tried to make sure I stayed focused over the past couple of weeks, and I think I did a pretty good job of studying and staying mentally ready. I haven't put on any pounds, and had been doing my cardio.

"I want to build on last year, of just being physically and mentally ready for the game," Gaither said. "I want to build on every aspect of last season."

The Ravens need Gaither and Adam Terry - their starting tackles - to play well this season. The Ravens are strong in the middle with guards Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda and center Jason Brown.

Yanda, Grubbs and Gaither are in their second seasons. Even while watching practice or the game from the sidelines, Gaither has stayed in contact with Grubbs.

"We wanted to make sure we were on the same page when I got back," Gaither said.

Terry suffered the same injury as Gaither nearly three days later in training camp. Terry's injury was less severe, and he came back last week.

Terry played well against the St. Louis Rams on Saturday night. He knows how good it feels to return.

"The severity of a high ankle sprain is different," Terry said. "I needed to get back out there, make some blocks and do some things. I had a general idea of how long I was going to play against the Rams. We played it, and things went all right. I felt great and thought I played pretty well."

Gaither felt the same excitement yesterday. With a high ankle sprain, it's hard to predict how he will feel this morning.

But at least for one day, he was back in the lineup. Harbaugh was able to relax a little because maybe his team might be over this rash of injuries.

And if Gaither can return, he might stop some of those hits that have been put on Ravens' quarterbacks.

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