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3 Ravens wide receivers looking to catch a break

If the question is depth at wide receiver, the Ravens will plug in their reserves and crank out the answers this week in St. Louis.

Because starters are generally excused from the preseason finale, and because Mark Clayton and Donte' Stallworth are hurt, Thursday night's game against the Rams will be a tale of survival.

Of all the wide-outs who might play at the Edward Jones Dome -- and that could be as many as five -- only one figures to make the Ravens' 53-man roster.

Will it be Demetrius Williams, the star-crossed, fifth-year veteran who has yet to live up to his big-play potential?

Or Marcus Smith, a special teams whiz who is fighting valiantly to overcome a significant knee injury that wiped out his 2009 season?

Or rookie David Reed, a fifth-round draft pick out of Utah who has alternated nifty catches with horrible drops?

Then again, the team's fifth receiver could be a player currently on another team's roster. The countdown to Saturday's final cuts is a crucible only for a select few.

"Cuts? I don't think about that stuff ever," Smith said Monday. "That's their job. My job is to go out there and make it hard for them. That's what I was doing before the injury situation happened, and that's what I plan on doing now. … I still have to play myself onto this team."

Smith, 25, seemingly injected himself into the discussion with a nice second-half performance against the New York Giants three days ago. He caught four passes, one for a touchdown, and did his usual yeoman's job on special teams.

Smith's return from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee is nothing short of remarkable. He made it through two-a-days in good shape.

"Even though it's sore, it's stronger than it may appear," he said of the knee. "It's more mental; it's more how far I feel I can push it. If I can mentally get through it, the leg will hold up."

Since neither of the team's starters, Anquan Boldin or Derrick Mason, is expected to play Thursday, Smith could wind up starting -- and playing most of the night.

"I might not come off the field from special teams and offense," he said brightly.

Williams, 27, is hoping simply to get onto the field. He sprained his right ankle on a second-quarter catch against the Washington Redskins on Aug. 21 and has been gimpy since. He was limited in Monday's practice in Owings Mills.

Williams, who had been written off the roster by some in training camp, knows how important it is for him to play and play well.

"As far as those guys [Clayton and Stallworth] getting hurt, my return needs to be as fast as possible," Williams said. "I need to definitely pick up the slack. I need to get out there as soon as I can."

Coach John Harbaugh said Williams had done well in camp and preseason until getting hurt. That revived the rap that Williams can't stay on the field.

"There's a durability factor and a consistency [factor] for Demetrius, and he'll be the first to tell you that," Harbaugh said. "He's just struggled with that -- no fault of his own. I thought he was having a tremendous camp. He was making plays every day, and he was stacking practices [back-to-back] like we asked him to do. But that's not finished with yet. We've just got to get the ankle [healed]. … He does need to get out there Thursday night, and I know he's shooting for that."

Williams acknowledged he has empathy for Stallworth, who broke his foot and will be out at least eight weeks. Asked whether the injury was bittersweet, Williams said: "I think it's just more bitter than anything. I don't want him to be hurt. He's a really good guy, and he's been through a lot in his career, and I just think that he's a really good player."

In two preseason games, Williams has three catches for 27 yards. A year ago, when he was the team's fourth receiver, he starred in the Ravens' final preseason game, catching four passes for 77 yards.

Now it appears he's playing for his Ravens career.

Reed, 23, is the healthiest of the three. He has four catches for 38 yards -- all against the Redskins -- this summer.

Harbaugh said the Ravens would use this game to see what certain players can do in live conditions.

"It's really important to find out what you have in game situations," he said. "We see them every day in practice, but we do make a concerted effort to push the ball to certain guys in the preseason.

"So, two weeks ago, David Reed had a chance to shine. Last week, Marcus Smith had a chance to shine. And there'll be some guys that we'll be pushing the ball to again in this game, just to find out what they do in a game situation and what we have and what they're capable of."

Baltimore Sun reporter Edward Lee contributed to this article.

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