Ravens practice highlights: Defense bounces back with big hits

DEFENSE PITCHES SHUTOUT: After surrendering two touchdowns in Thursday night's 31-17 preseason win against the Atlanta Falcons, the first-team defense shined Saturday. During a red-zone exercise, the unit prevented the first-team offense from scoring and permitted just one first down. Cornerback Lardarius Webb intercepted a pass from quarterback Joe Flacco intended for wide receiver Anquan Boldin in the end zone.

RAISING THE (YELLOW) FLAG: The offense drew a lot of attention from the crew of officials observing practice. The group committed two false starts, a delay of game and pass interference when rookie wide receiver Deonte Thompson dragged down rookie cornerback Jordan Maybin while trying to catch a long pass from quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

BIG HITS: The defense made a few big hits during practice. Fullback Vonta Leach caught a pass from Flacco on third down-and-5 during the red-zone drill, but inside linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo shouldered Leach to the ground and short of the first-down marker. Inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe popped rookie running back Bobby Rainey after he caught a short pass from Flacco, and strong safety Sean Considine ran over Thompson, who was trying to catch a deep ball from Taylor. Considine was flagged for pass interference.

STANDOUT PERFORMER: Playing alongside a 13-time Pro Bowler and certain Hall of Famer can get one overlooked at times, but inside linebacker Jameel McClain had one of his stronger showings. He broke up a pass during a 7-on-7 exercise and then pressured Flacco into throwing the ball away early and stopped running back Damien Berry near the line of scrimmage on an inside run during a full-team drill. At one point, McClain crowed to his defensive teammates, "You know the defense is going good when you don't hear the fans!".

NEWCOMER WATCH: Despite the return of Matt Birk, Gino Gradkowski took the majority of snaps at center with the first offense. But on two occasions during the full-team exercise, the rookie short-hopped shotgun snaps to Flacco. The first led to Flacco being forced to throw the ball away, but he connected with wide receiver Jacoby Jones the second time.

INJURIES: Birk (back spasms) and rookie outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw (bruised right shoulder) returned to practice, snapping a streak of eight consecutive absences. Rookie running back Bernard Pierce (hamstring) participated after sitting out seven straight practices. Defensive tackle Arthur Jones (hip flexor) returned after missing five consecutive practices. Cornerback Jimmy Smith (back) took part after sitting out four straight sessions, but he did not get involved in many full-team exercises. Wide receivers Torrey Smith (sprained ankle), Logan Payne (bruised hip) and Tandon Doss (hamstring), cornerbacks Chykie Brown (undisclosed) and rookie Asa Jackson (undisclosed), tight end Ed Dickson (sprained right shoulder), and defensive tackle Ryan McBean (broken left ankle) did not practice. Tight end Dennis Pitta (broken right hand) and inside linebacker Josh Bynes (cracked vertebrae) did not participate for the eighth consecutive day. Wide receiver Patrick Williams (left shin/calf) sat out his seventh straight practice. Inside linebacker Darryl Blackstock (groin) did not take part for the third consecutive day. Players who are on the physically-unable-to-perform list include offensive tackle Jah Reid (strained right calf) and wide receiver/return specialist David Reed (knee surgery). Five-time Prowl Bowl outside linebacker and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs (torn right Achilles tendon) is on the non-football injury list.

OVERHEARD: "Is this the Beatles?" — Strong safety Bernard Pollard during the playing of Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper."

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