Every week seems to pit Ravens offensive tackle Jared Gaither against a Pro Bowl-caliber defensive end or outside linebacker. Gaither wouldn't have it any other way.
"I welcome any competition, I welcome any challenge, and I'm going to go out there and give it my best," he said. "Any player that doesn't [relish a challenge], I don't think he has a true love for the competition. Just work hard and get the job done."
After tangling with the Pittsburgh Steelers' James Harrison (twice), the Miami Dolphins' Joey Porter, the Houston Texans' Mario Williams and the Indianapolis Colts' Dwight Freeney, Gaither gets another test in Pro Bowl outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware when the Ravens visit the Dallas Cowboys tomorrow night.
Ware leads the NFL with 19 sacks, and he is just four sacks away from eclipsing the single-season sack record of 22 1/2 set by former New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan in 2001.
In 13 of 14 games this season, Ware has at least one sack, and he had three each against the St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks and Giants.
Ware will likely line up against Gaither, who did not surrender a sack to Williams or Freeney or Harrison in their second meeting. Remarkably, Gaither has played despite a sprained shoulder that has him blocking essentially with one arm.
"I think he's had a courageous season, and the shoulder is getting better as he goes now, so he's bringing the other arm into it more than he has," coach John Harbaugh said. "He's done a great job in rehab.
"I think [head athletic trainer] Bill Tessendorf has done a great job of getting the shoulder right, and he's had a really fine season."
Gaither might agree with his coach, but if so, he declined to give voice to those thoughts.
"This is only my first year of playing a complete year, and I'm not done yet," he said.
"I still have two games left in the regular season, and I'm looking forward to postseason play. My best play is ahead of me by far."
Reed sits out again
Free safety Ed Reed did not practice yesterday, the second consecutive day he has not practiced. Reed has been dealing with a sore hamstring for the past few weeks, but he has played despite the injury.
Two players who did not practice Wednesday - cornerback Fabian Washington (pulled hamstring) and Gaither (flu) - returned with Washington being limited, while Gaither was upgraded to full participation.
Wide receiver Derrick Mason (dislocated left shoulder), cornerback Samari Rolle (ankle), offensive tackle Willie Anderson (ankle), running back Ray Rice (left shin contusion) and kicker Matt Stover (sprained right ankle) were limited for a second straight day. Also, offensive tackle Adam Terry (knee) was downgraded to limited participation.
Four Cowboys starters - safeties Ken Hamlin (finger) and Keith Davis (neck/knee), running back Marion Barber (dislocated toe) and left guard Montrae Holland (ankle) - did not practice. Hamlin, Barber and Holland sat out for the second consecutive day.
Quarterback Tony Romo (lower back contusion), wide receiver Roy Williams (foot) and cornerback Adam Jones (herniated disc) were upgraded from limited to full participation.
Without going so far as to confirm that Jim Leonhard had leapfrogged Yamon Figurs as the team's primary punt returner, special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said the two would split returns for the rest of the season.
"Well, we've done that to some extent for most of the season," Rosburg said. "This last game, you probably saw a little bit more of Jim Leonhard partly because of the game plan that we had. But we anticipate them sharing the duties, much like they have during the season."
That decision has not shaken Figurs' confidence.
"It's none of that," said Figurs, whose average punt return of 6.0 yards is slightly more than half of Leonhard's 11.9. "It's just that being injured this year, a lot of stuff has been going on. They've slowed me down a little bit. I'm just trying to get back healthy."
Linebacker Bart Scott said the NFL fined him $10,000 this week, but he declined to elaborate on the reason. "Man, I get all kinds of stuff," Scott said. "I'm on the list." ... Punter Sam Koch said he doesn't begrudge the Pro Bowl selection of the Oakland Raiders' Shane Lechler, who is third in gross average (48.9 yards), second in net average (41.4) and third in punts inside the 20 (28). "It would have been nice to go, but you know, there were a lot of people that were well-deserved - like Lechler, obviously, with the way he's been punting, and [the San Diego Chargers' Mike] Scifres as well," Koch said. ... Safety Daren Stone, who was scooped up by the Ravens after he was waived by the Cowboys in October, has become a part of the defense's third-down package and a member of the punt coverage team. "It's been really exciting for me, to come in and start playing for the team," he said. "Even going out there for just one or two plays on defense, I'm excited. And I'm hoping to expand my role."
Baltimore Sun reporter Ken Murray contributed to this article.