Legendary linebacker Ray Lewis is eligible to the return to the practice field this week, and he could return to game action within the next month.
Reports circulated over the weekend that Lewis was targeting a return for the Ravens' Week 15 game against Denver, and Head Coach John Harbaugh confirmed Monday that he expects Lewis to be back at some point during the regular season.
"I think he will," Harbaugh said when asked if Lewis would return before the postseason. "That's just the best guess. He's working hard to do that. We'll see."
The rules allow Lewis to return to practice Thursday, and Harbaugh left open that possibility.
"Whatever the rules are, I'd say he could practice as soon as the rules allow him to practice," Harbaugh said. "We'll have an update for you on that."
Lewis tore his right triceps in the Ravens' Week 6 game against the Dallas Cowboys, and the original diagnosis was that the injury would end his season. But the Ravens wanted to keep the option open for Lewis to potentially make a speedy recovery by placing him on injured reserve-designated to return list.
Lewis had surgery to repair his triceps muscle and he has spent the last six weeks rehabbing to make it back this season. He has been on the sidelines for games the last three weeks and did not appear to be showing hesitation with his arm.
"We're going to want him to test it to see if it can hold up," Harbaugh said. "I really don't know where it's at right now. Ray has been in rehab mode. He hasn't been here from a football standpoint in terms of us seeing any of that yet. Just talking to Ray, it sounds like things have gone well. There have been no setbacks. So there's a possibility."
In Lewis' absence, the Ravens have turned to Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe to start at inside linebacker.
They have both performed well – Ellerbe is second on the team with 81 tackles and McClain is third with 66 – and the defense has allowed the fewest points per game in the NFL in the month of November. The defense as a whole has stepped up its play in recent weeks, but Harbaugh said they would love to get Lewis back in the lineup.
Even with the good play of the defense, Harbaugh didn't give any notion to giving Lewis extra time to recover than needed.
"All of our guys would welcome Ray back with open arms if and when that happens," Harbaugh said. "We could stumble at any point in this league, but adding a great player to this mix is only going to make us better."
If Lewis is able to complete his recovery and get back on the field this season, it would mark the second tremendous comeback for a Ravens defender this season. Terrell Suggs took just five and a half months to return, missing just six weeks of the season, after tearing his Achilles tendon in the offseason, which is typically a 12-month recovery.
"I just have so much confidence in who Ray is as a person and a man, and the same thing for Terrell Suggs," Harbaugh said. "We'll just see how Ray does. I know one thing, he's working. He's working harder than any of us can imagine to try to get back and get healthy."