The emotional moment that Ravens inside linebacker Jameel McClain had awaited finally arrived Wednesday when he rejoined his teammates on the practice field.
Ten months after suffering a spinal cord contusion that endangered his NFL career, McClain returned to practice for the first time. McClain received medical clearance last week when his latest magnetic resonance imaging exam revealed no more signs of the damage suffered during a hit against the Washington Redskins last December.
"I'm still here, still doing what I love and fighting for this team," said McClain, who remains on the reserve-physically unable to perform list.
McClain said he could barely sleep when he learned Tuesday that he was going to be allowed to practice.
"I was like a little kid," McClain said. "I was tossing and turning thinking about my first day of practice."
During his time away, McClain had to deal with conflicting medical information and many questions about whether he would ever play again.
"There was so much negativity that I couldn't afford to think negative," McClain said. "All I could do was believe in myself and what I was capable of doing. Whether it was coming in as an undrafted free agent or coming back from an injury so many people thought I couldn't come back from, I fought the odds. I always had belief in myself in a world of negativity."
McClain is now eligible to be placed on the active roster as he enters a three-week window for a decision to be made on his status .
McClain was listed on the injury report as a full participant in practice. The Ravens are expected to be cautious and allow McClain more time to test himself in practice before determining his status.
"We don't know what that means for this week, next week or the week after," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We do know that it means within three weeks we have to make a decision about whether we put him on the 53-man roster."
A starter for the past three seasons, McClain said he he feels great physically while acknowledging there's rust to shed.
It remains unclear how McClain would be utilized once he's activated with Daryl Smith entrenched as the starting middle linebacker. Josh Bynes has been productive as the starting weak-side inside linebacker but hasn't made big plays.
"I just fit in as a football player like I always fit in," McClain said. "I'll come in and play how I play when given the opportunity. I know I've got to come back and work just like everybody else comes back and works."
Breaking through coverage, conversation
Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith doesn't usually engage in trash talking with cornerbacks.
In the case of outspoken Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, though, Smith makes an exception. Taylor has a knack for drawing receivers into a running conversation.
"I haven't met anyone that talks as much trash as him," Smith said. "When I get to play him, it's always pretty fun because I'm not a guy who talks, but he gets it out of me every single time."
Smith caught one pass for seven yards last season while being shadowed by Taylor during a Ravens win at Heinz Field. He caught three passes for 33 yards against the Steelers in a loss at M&T Bank Stadium.
"I have a lot of respect for him," Smith said. "Obviously, he's been one of the top corners in the game for a while. You know he's going to bring it, and you have to bring your 'A' game as well."
Bynes didn't practice due to an infected finger that led to him being hospitalized Tuesday night but is expected back soon.
"He got good news," Harbaugh said. "It's clearing up."
Backup nose tackle Terrence Cody returned to practice from a sprained left knee sustained against the Houston Texans and was limited.
Defensive end Chris Canty (groin) and inside linebacker Albert McClellan (sprained right shoulder) didn't practice.
Nose tackle Haloti Ngata (left elbow), cornerback Chykie Brown (hamstring), center Ryan Jensen (foot surgery), linebacker Courtney Upshaw (foot) and cornerback Lardarius Webb (strained hamstring) were limited.
Ngata briefly left the game Sunday during a 19-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
"It wasn't bad enough to keep me out," Ngata said.
Defensive end Marcus Spears (knee) and wide receiver Brandon Stokley (hip, groin) participated fully.
"Man, I feel pretty good," said Spears, who has been out the past two games. "I think the way we went about it was real smart."
Blocking it out
New left tackle Eugene Monroe's surrendered a sack and forced fumble to outside linebacker Nick Perry in his Ravens debut. The blocking miscue led to a Packers field goal at the end of the first half.
"You always want to play a clean game and not get the quarterback touched," Monroe said. "You have to be the guy who doesn't let that happen."
Although the Steelers have only seven sacks this season led by outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley's four sacks, they are known for unpredictable pass rush concepts designed by the architect of the zone blitz: veteran defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
"Every team has their way of attacking an offense, and his way may be different than any other way," Monroe said. "We'll prepare and be ready."
Running back auditioned
The Ravens worked out former Cincinnati Bengals running back Bernard Scott, according to a league source.
He wasn't immediately signed to a contract, though.
Scott, 29, hasn't played this season since being released by the Bengals. Last season, he played in two games Cincinnati and rushed for 35 yards on eight carries.
In four NFL seasons, Scott has rushed for 1,035 yards and four touchdowns. He's caught 29 passes for 165 yards.
The Ravens' running game has struggled, but it's unclear if Scott would provide an upgrade. The Ravens have only two running backs on the active roster: Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce.
The Ravens converted only 2-of-14 third downs against the Packers and had eight three-and-out drives. "The trend is that we're not doing very well on first down, and we're not doing very well on second down," Harbaugh said. "We are putting ourselves in very long third-down situations. That's made it very difficult." ... The Steelers ruled out wide receiver Markus Wheaton (finger) and rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones didn't practice due to a head injury.
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