Ravens defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan returned to practice Thursday after nearly three weeks out with a knee injury, making it possible he'll be available for the season opener Sunday at the Denver Broncos.
"I think it's going to be a real close call," Jernigan said after practice. "I've got a good feeling about it. It feels pretty good, you know, just the little bit of reps I did at practice. The biggest thing is just seeing how long I can go for, just making sure that thing doesn't give out after a while."
Jernigan, the Ravens' second-round draft pick a season ago, injured his knee in the Washington Redskins backfield on the fourth play from scrimmage in the third preseason game on Aug. 22. Indications after the game were that he avoided a serious injury, but that the regular season opener could be in question.
He appeared to be going full speed in individual drills, bursting into the tackling dummies and sprinting down the sidelines during the portion of practice open to the media. The Ravens listed him as a limited participant on the injury report.
Jernigan, the projected starter in place of longtime defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, now of the Detroit Lions, would add a bit of explosiveness on the inside of the Ravens defensive line against a rebuilt Denver Broncos offensive line. If he can't go, his reps would likely fall to rookie third-round draft pick Carl Davis.
Jernigan admitted it's "aggravating not being able to be out there and to miss game reps" in the preseason, but said he hasn't been overly hard on himself for the time missed with both knee and foot injuries since training camp began.
"That's part of the game," he said. "That's not saying, 'Oh, I'm a horrible player because I got hurt' or anything. That just means I got hurt. That's something I can't control. When I'm out there for the four quarters, if I don't do what I said I would do then, then I'd be able to answer that question a little bit better.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees said Jernigan's return from practice was "big."
"We need the guy — that's why we drafted the guy," Pees said. "We need to get him back, and we want him back."
Jernigan was the only player who returned from injury Thursday, with wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee), running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (sprained MCL), and cornerback Rashaan Melvin (thigh) remaining out.