OWINGS MILLS — The Ravens returned to practice Tuesday after taking the weekend off.
Baltimore earned the rare right to extra recovery time by posting the NFL’s best record to secure the AFC’s No. 1 seed and a first-round bye.
The entire team had a weekend of rest, while several key players have taken the last two weeks off. The Ravens sat some of their veterans and top players during the regular-season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers. While most inactives were healthy scratches that game, running back Mark Ingram was out with a strained calf. His status remains Baltimore’s biggest question mark entering Saturday night’s divisional round matchup against the Tennessee Titans.
Ingram was one of four players absent from practice on Tuesday. Also out were safety Earl Thomas, cornerback Jimmy Smith and offensive lineman Parker Ehinger. Thomas said before practice he would take a veteran’s day and Smith’s absence was also non-injury related. Ehinger was out with a shoulder injury and tight end Mark Andrews was limited with an ankle injury that kept him out of the Pittsburgh game.
“We’re not talking about any injuries this week,” head coach John Harbaugh said prior to Tuesday’s practice. “You’ll know on [Saturday].”
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted Tuesday that Ingram “was essentially full speed last week on his calf,” but “he felt some tightness, source said, and pulled back to avoid re-injury.” He still has a chance to play Saturday against Tennessee.
Ravens not concerned with rust
When Baltimore secured its first-round bye and home-field advantage through the Super Bowl, the “rest vs. rust” debate became rampant. Should the Ravens rest their stars to protect them from injury in a meaningless final game? But if they do, will they be rusty come playoffs?
“It’s treated my body really well. I’m going to take a vet day today, get some extra recovery. I’ll be ready. This organization has done great all year with that,” Thomas, one of the players to sit out of the Week 17 game, said. “That’s what practice is for. You keep the rust off at practice. You get your eyes right, you get your techniques, your alignments and all that stuff right. The game is muscle memory. You sharpen all your tools and you’re going to be ready when the game comes.”
Second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson also sat out against the Steelers. When the whole team had a couple of days off this weekend during the Wild Card round, Jackson came into the facility and threw passes to wide receiver Willie Snead IV.
“I’m not worried about that,” Jackson said about the idea the Ravens will be rusty Saturday night. “I got maintenance from the training staff. I got with Willie Snead. We came in, just threw to get some more rust off. Just go to practice and treat it like a game, try to get better.”
“Just to stay sharp,” Snead said. “We were off for like a week and half, so he wanted to get together and throw. That’s what we did.”
Happy birthday, MVP
Jackson turned 23 on Tuesday, spending his birthday at practice and meetings.
“It’s just another year for me,” he said. “I don’t really celebrate. I’d rather just chill, hang out with my family, stuff like that. The Lord gave me another year and I’m grateful for it.”
The presumptive Most Valuable Player set an NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback while leading the league in touchdown passes. He became the first player to ever throw for 3,000 and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.
“We celebrated that a little bit. We always put it up there – the birthdays – in our team meetings. It was Lamar, but not just Lamar. [Tight ends coach] Bobby Engram’s birthday is today. Sterling’s birthday is today – Sterling Lucas, one of our defensive coaches. So, we had three big birthdays that we’re celebrating,” Harbaugh said. “We expect guys to be at their best on their birthday, and their birthday week.”
In a conference call with Baltimore media Tuesday, Titans head coach Mike Vrabel was concerned with finding a way to slow Jackson down this weekend instead of wishing him a happy birthday.
“Other than try to tie his shoelaces together, not many people have had success,” Vrabel said. “We’ll have to prepare and try to get out players as ready as possible to defend not only him, but Mark Ingram and [Gus] Edwards. It’s impressive what they’ve done.”
Follow Sean Grogan on Twitter: @Sean_CecilWhig