Ravens WR Donte' Stallworth could make his debut vs. Dolphins

Doubts may have been raised about the speed of his recovery, but Donte' Stallworth's determination to return after the Ravens' bye week hasn't wavered.

"It's going good," Stallworth said of his rehabilitation a couple of weeks ago. "I'm making progress every day. I feel like I'm right on schedule, and I'm feeling pretty good. So I'm looking forward to getting in after that bye week. That was the initial target date, and that's still the target date. Hopefully, everything goes as planned."

Barring a setback, Stallworth could play against the Miami Dolphins on Nov. 7. Coach John Harbaugh, however, hedged on confirming that possibility.

"I don't know yet," Harbaugh said. "I think he's got a good chance to be [in that game]. He thinks he's going to be. So we'll keep our fingers crossed."

Stallworth broke the fifth metatarsal in his left foot while running a route in the team's third preseason game against the New York Giants on Aug. 28 and underwent surgery nine days later.

He's been running and lifting weights, and he made his first appearance on the practice field since the preseason when he participated in a few positional drills Oct. 21.

"Everything's been week by week so far," he said. "They pretty much give me a plan for the week and then I go out there and progress towards that goal. Pretty much, I've made all of my expectations and surpassed some of the goals as well. Every day is a progression of its own, and we're going week by week."

Stallworth's presence could inject the offense with a downfield threat who can force opposing defenses to play deeper and give teammates Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh space to work short and intermediate routes.

"As you know, he's an explosive guy," Harbaugh said. "He's a strong runner with the ball. He's got the speed element, obviously. That always helps. He's kind of a little different than the other three that are playing mostly right now, so that should help us."

This season, the offense has recorded just two catches of 40 yards or more, which is tied with eight other teams for 20th in the NFL. Since he joined the league in 2002, Stallworth's 13 receptions of at least 40 yards trails only Boldin's 20 among the Ravens players.

"Everybody knows Donte' is a fast guy," said Boldin, who leads the team in catches (38), yards (518) and touchdowns (5). "He's able to stretch the field. He just brings another playmaker to the offense."

The unenviable task of distributing the ball among those four receivers falls on quarterback Joe Flacco, who seemed to take the responsibility in stride.

"We'll see how much we can get him involved," he said. "You know, we've got a lot of guys on this team that demand the ball and are good at doing things with the ball. So obviously, we're going to have to be patient with him and let things happen. But we'll definitely see in the next coming weeks because we'll definitely try things."

Stallworth had the same injury but with his right foot in college after his first season at Tennessee, during the Fiesta Bowl.

Recalling that doctors in Knoxville kept him in a boot for two months and let Stallworth heal slowly in the offseason, Stallworth figured on the same recovery time in Baltimore and thought his first season as a Raven was over before it began.

"When I get in the X-ray room and the doctor is telling me that it's like a six- to eight-week deal, I was like, 'What? Really?'," recalled Stallworth. "I said, 'I'm good then'. Not good that I'm going to miss the first half of the season, but knowing that I wasn't going to be out for the year helped me overcome being in a despondent mood."

After being in a boot for only 10 days but unable to do any weight-bearing exercises, Stallworth worked on his conditioning by treading water for up to a half hour in a pool at the team's Owings Mills facility. Stallworth plugged his iPod into a portable speaker, listening to everyone from Eddie Van Halen to Tupac Shakur as he draped his body over a bar in the deep end.

"When a verse was on, I would go full speed, when a chorus was on then I'd kind of paddle," he said.

Some of his teammates razzed Stallworth about one selection in particular.

"When they walked in, I hoped they wouldn't hear me listening to it, but I had on Irene Cara and 'Flashdance,'" Stallworth said with a laugh. "I think [ Terrell] Suggs caught me one time. He wasn't as bad as some of the young guys. They weren't even born when that movie came out."

Once he started running, Stallworth said his experience helped him push himself a little harder than he did in college.

"When it happened the first time, I was questioning the integrity of the screw in the foot," Stallworth said,. "It helped me out having the same injury in college. Now I know when it gets really sore, it's just a part of the rehabilitation process. It's enabled me to really push past the soreness and not worry about it."

Still, for all of the strides Stallworth has made physically, he acknowledged that overcoming a sense of tentativeness with the foot is perhaps his biggest mental hurdle.

"I'm taking care of all the physical parts and all the physical stuff right now," he said. "But yeah, it'll probably be more mental. It'll get sore. Anytime you have surgery, it's going to be sore when you start working it in. So I think mentally, I have to go back in and have the confidence in the repair and confidence that everything's fine."


Baltimore Sun reporters Jamison Hensley and Don Markus contributed to this article.

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