Ravens coach John Harbaugh isn't discussing injuries these days, especially ones involving a player who hasn't seen game action since last season. Whenever cornerback Lardarius Webb is asked about his playing status, he makes it clear that it's not his call.
"You can ask John Harbaugh," Webb said Wednesday when surrounded by reporters in front of his locker. "If you interview him, ask him that question."
Webb's status has become a weekly mystery. After leaving a July 25 training camp practice with a lower back injury, Webb missed the entire preseason. He returned to practice as a full participant in the days leading up to the Ravens' regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, but he didn't play in the Sept. 7 game, or last Thursday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Now, as the Ravens are preparing for another key AFC North matchup — against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium — Webb's status is again a question mark. However, there's plenty of optimism that Webb is ready to play after spending the past couple weeks working his way back into game shape.
"I'm getting ready for Sunday. He's getting ready for Sunday," said Ravens cornerback Asa Jackson who sustained a head injury last week against the Steelers, but he's passed the concussion protocol. Like Webb, Jackson was a full participant in Wednesday's practice. "Hopefully, good things will happen."
Webb would only say that he hopes he'll play, but he's leaving it up to Harbaugh.
"Harbs will make that call," he said. "The boss will make that call."
Webb did say that he's had no setbacks and he feels good. He's looked increasingly more comfortable in practice and more flexible in bending to reach low throws. But it's still fair to question what the Ravens can expect from Webb, who hasn't played in a game since last December.
Webb, however, has no such concerns.
"When I get back out, I'm going to be in NFL speed. I don't want to go out on the field if I'm not ready for NFL speed. I play corner, that's what I do," Webb said. "By the time I get out on the field, I'll be ready.
"Conditioning is great. I'm tired now, so you can tell. I've just been doing a lot of running to get back in shape. It's kind of my mini training camp, I would say."
Webb, 28, is the Ravens' most experienced and accomplished cornerback. He's played in 67 games over the previous five seasons, starting 41 of them. He has 10 career interceptions and 263 total tackles. His ability to play both on the outside and in the slot gives defensive coordinator Dean Pees flexibility in creating favorable matchups.
With Webb sidelined, Pees and secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo have juggled their personnel. In the 26-6 victory over the Steelers last Thursday, they had cornerback Jimmy Smith shadow Antonio Brown, the opposing team's top receiver. Starting strong safety Matt Elam was used as a nickel cornerback. Veteran Jeromy Miles then entered the game as another safety alongside Darian Stewart.
The alignment worked as Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed just 22 of 37 passes and the Ravens forced three turnovers. They held Pittsburgh to just two field goals.
Overall, the pass defense is ranked 23rd, allowing 251.5 passing yards a game, but it has succeeded in cutting down on big plays and in stiffening in the red zone.
"They're not going to give up big plays," said Browns coach Mike Pettine. "It's very difficult in the NFL to drive the length of the field. You have to get a defense to maybe take some chances and open up some shots down the field, and the Ravens don't do that. They're very patient, they're persistent."
The return of Webb, however, would make their secondary much better. Smith continues to play at a high level and Jackson has more than held his own in the first two weeks. The much-maligned Chykie Brown has also shown improvement, though he was beaten by A.J. Green on the Bengals' game-winning, 77-yard touchdown pass.
"I can't wait to get back out there with the boys," Webb said. "They're playing awesome, speaking of the D, and I just can't wait to get back out with them."