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Ravens notes: Safety Tony Jefferson returns to practice for first time since ankle injury

Ravens starting safety Tony Jefferson ended a streak of missing seven consecutive practices and participated on a limited basis Thursday afternoon, validating coach John Harbaugh’s assessment Wednesday that Jefferson was “close” to coming back.

“Much better, man,” Jefferson said of his health before the session. “Each and every day, getting better. It’s just a healing process. These injuries take a little while. So it’s all about timing.”

Jefferson has been absent from the Ravens’ past two games since suffering a sprained left ankle in the second quarter of a 34-17 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Nov. 25. Jefferson, who wore a walking boot after the game, said he is eager to play Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but noted that he has missed a considerable amount of time in practice.

“I personally love practice because for me, practice is harder than the games,” he said. “But if it came down to it, obviously I want to play. When I’m not on the field, I’m in the film room so that I know what’s going on. And I’m in great shape.”

Jefferson, who still ranks second on the defense in tackles (60) and is the only player on the team with at least one sack, one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery, has been replaced in the starting lineup by Chuck Clark.

In addition to Jefferson, slot cornerback Tavon Young (groin) and defensive back Anthony Levine Sr. (ankle) were limited Thursday after sitting out Wednesday’s session.

Cornerback Marlon Humphrey (groin) was absent for the second straight day and was joined by wide receiver John Brown (not injury related) and left guard Alex Lewis (left shoulder), who was limited Wednesday.

Quarterbacks Joe Flacco (right hip) and rookie Lamar Jackson (ankle) and outside linebacker Tim Williams (right ankle) were full participants for the second consecutive day. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree, free safety Eric Weddle and right guard Marshal Yanda — all of whom were given Wednesday off — practiced fully Thursday.

Cyrus Jones second in punt returns

Thanks to a 55-yard punt return in Sunday’s 27-24 overtime loss at the Kansas City Chiefs, Cyrus Jones ranks second in the NFL in punt return average at 14.4 yards, trailing only the New York JetsAndre Roberts (15.3). Jones seemed pleased when informed of the ranking – with one exception.

“I want to be first,” he said with a grin. “But it’s a testament to how hard we’ve been working on that phase on this team and everybody buying in and everybody blocking the hardest they can block and me just trying to be consistent on every play catching the ball. Then I’m just using my God-given talent to read my blocks and make a play.”

Special teams coordinator/associate head coach Jerry Rosburg attributed Jones’ success this season to a pair of factors.

“It’s Cyrus’ improvement that has been coupled with our improvement as blockers,” he said. “He has certainly improved since he’s gotten here — having a better understanding of our returns and how they’re structured, what we want him to do. At the same time, our return team is performing better. They’re more efficient in their blocks. I think those two things have gone hand in hand.”

No setback for James Hurst

After sitting out six games because of a disk problem in his back that also impacted his calf, offensive lineman James Hurst returned and started at left guard, not his usual position at right tackle, for Lewis.

Hurst has not been on the team’s injury report this week, and he said he was encouraged that he did not re-aggravate his back.

“It’s definitely very important for the team and for the stretch that we’re currently in,” he said. “But also personally, just for me, it’s nice to know that this is not a long-term issue. We had a program in place with rehab and staying ahead of it and strengthening all of the core muscles and everything to help it stay in line. So it’s definitely exciting.”

Extra points

» The Buccaneers were without two starters in safety Justin Evans (toe) and wide receiver DeSean Jackson (thumb) for the second consecutive practice. They were joined by defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (knee/hip), who had been limited Wednesday. Three other starters in rookie cornerback Carlton Davis III (knee), right tackle Demar Dotson (knee) and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (shoulder) were limited participants for the second straight day.

» Harbaugh said he was hoping for a burst of cold weather to greet Tampa Bay for Sunday’s game. “I’m a little disappointed it’s going to be in the mid-to-high 40s,” he said.

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