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McGahee, Heap Eye Week 1


The third preseason contest is typically the game where starters see the majority of playing time, but as the Ravens enter their matchup with the St. Louis Rams this weekend, they will be without two of their top offensive playmakers.

Running back Willis McGahee and tight end Todd Heap will each be sidelined due to injuries.

And while a few reps in Baltimore's preseason finale would be an ideal warmup for the former Pro Bowlers, both players are eyeing a return Sept. 7, when the Cincinnati Bengals come to M&T Bank Stadium.

Not having McGahee and Heap is causing the Ravens' coaches to shift their thinking and continue to evaluate players that reside deeper on the depth chart.

"The third game is the game you play your guys together as a group for the most plays," head coach John Harbaugh said. "But, there are going to be certain individuals that may need to play more in the fourth game because they don't play the third game, or maybe not.

"We just have to deal with it case by case."

McGahee, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee last week, assured reporters that he would be prepared for the regular-season opener.

"It's always making progress. Every day I come out here and rehab, it's just getting better," said the freshly-mohawked running back, briefly stopping through the locker room in-between rehab sessions.

"I will be ready [for the regular season], but I don't know about playing in the preseason. I think I should be [able to play in the preseason], but we have to wait and see."

Heap is also taking a cautious approach to his strained calf muscle after missing 10 games last season with a lingering hamstring injury. The Ravens' all-time leading receiver limped away from an Aug. 2 training camp practice with his right calf wrapped.

In Heap's absence - along with Daniel Wilcox, only recently returned to practice after sitting out camp with a foot injury - the Ravens have employed multiple tight ends. Three-year veteran Adam Bergen has received the most reps, and he currently leads the team with seven receptions for 43 yards.

"I want to make sure it's completely right," noted Heap. "I definitely don't want setbacks at this point. I want to be 100 percent healthy going into the first game.

"I'm still learning. I definitely learned some lessons last year trying to battle a hamstring. You have to let it heal before you get out there, so you have to be smart about it."

At this point, Heap is considerably farther along than McGahee. Although he didn't return to the field until Monday, Aug. 18, Heap is now taking reps with the offense.

McGahee, on the other hand, is limited to rehabbing in a pool under the watchful eyes of the Ravens' medical staff.

"I do a lot of workouts in the pool," McGahee explained. "It's not running, running, running - but just running in the pool can be great conditioning.

"Go ask Michael Phelps!"

While the Miami native certainly won't be challenging the Olympic gold medalist, McGahee hopes he can make up for physically falling behind by poring over offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's playbook, a hobby he's had ample time for.

One of his biggest hurdles will be preparing his body for consistently taking live hits, which can only be replicated in practice.

"It's hard [to simply watch his teammates], but the game is mostly mental," he said. "You can bring anybody in here to just play football, but you have to know the mental part. I have that somewhat down pat, but there are certain things you have to pick up on the field."

To the two injured stars, hurrying back for preseason action will do them no favors if it ends up costing part - or all - of the regular season.

McGahee would know. The former University of Miami All-American tore two ligaments in his left knee in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl and subsequently sat out his entire rookie season with the Buffalo Bills.

He went on to top 1,000 yards rushing in three of his next four campaigns.

"Compared to that, this rehab is nothing," he said. "This is something you don't want to rush back, because you might have to go under the 'scope again.

"I just take it one day at a time."

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