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Secondary Shuffling


One day after Chris McAlister did not start in Sunday's 27-13 win over the Miami Dolphins, the three-time Pro Bowler's return to the starting lineup remains unclear.

Head coach John Harbaugh said that it wasn't because of a disciplinary issue.

And in clarifying statements made in a post-game interview where it was construed that McAlister was working through a sore knee, Harbaugh ruled out any injury.

The reason?

Basically, it came down to having the best players on the field for the NFL's second-ranked defense.

"It's a football decision," Harbaugh said. "We're always going to put the best 11 players on the field for that situation to play that play as well as we can, whether it's offense, defense or special teams. And that's what we did yesterday.

"We put the 11 guys out there that we felt were the best to defend whatever we were seeing in that particular package."

That meant Fabian Washington and Frank Walker became the two starting cornerbacks, in light of Samari Rolle's absence due to a neck injury.

It marked the first time all season McAlister hasn't started. Through Baltimore's initial five contests, the 10-year veteran led the team with three interceptions.

The Ravens' secondary was burned for multiple big plays in the passing game against the Indianapolis Colts, including a 67-yard touchdown shot to Marvin Harrison behind McAlister, but that was also not a factor in the surprising move.

"If he's one of the guys that we feel like we put on the field, he's going to give us the best opportunity to play the best defense at that moment, he'll be out there," Harbaugh said. "If we think there's a guy that can do it better, then he'll be out there."

Harbaugh also took discipline out of the equation.

"We don't tie any kind of a punishment, pulling a guy off the field," the coach noted, sticking to his message. "How much a guy plays is based specifically and directly to what gives us the best opportunity to put our best players out there in any given situation."

Meanwhile, the Ravens are optimistic that Rolle and starting strong safety Dawan Landry can make it back for this weekend's matchup with the Oakland Raiders.

Both players have been dealing with neck and shoulder injuries for much of the season. Landry was knocked out in the opener with a spinal cord concussion when his helmet hit the knee of Cleveland running back Jamal Lewis.

Rolle missed the last four games after surgery was required to clear up issues related to a stinger.

Rolle met with team doctors Monday, while Landry is scheduled for an appointment the following day.

After two such serious injuries, Harbaugh admitted he was amazed at the duo's speedy recovery.

"I'm going to have to say, yeah, I was a little bit surprised in both those cases that you could come back that quickly in these situations," Harbaugh said.

Without the trio of regular-starters in the defensive backfield, Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington completed 24 of 35 attempts for 295 yards, one touchdown and one interception, the highest total passing Baltimore has allowed all year.

"When we get Samari back, we're going to be that much stronger in the back end. And when we get Dawan back, the same thing," Harbaugh said. "Those are two starting [defensive backs] that are going to be back in the mix.

"That's going to be a big boost for us."

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