The Vikings returned to work today to begin preparing for the Baltimore Ravens. Here was some of the conversation inside the locker room.
The return of center Matt Birk is an obvious story line this week. His former teammates said they are excited to play against Birk, although nose tackle Pat Williams tried to downplay it initially.
“I like all matchups,” he said. “Our whole defensive line likes all matchups. It doesn’t matter if we’re facing Birk or anybody else.”
Williams, however, did say he believes Birk is still one of the top five centers in the league. Williams said he can’t wait to trash talk to Birk.
“I always talk to him,” he said. “He won’t say anything back. I think he might say something back when I get talking to him on Sunday. I’m going to say something bad this time. It was all good stuff when we were teammates.”
Jared Allen said he doubts Birk will get involved in any verbal sparring with the defensive line.
“I played against him in Kansas City and he didn’t really talk trash,” Allen said. “If Matt wants to, I can talk trash with the best of them. But I love Matty B.”
Winning always makes for a relaxed locker room and that was no different today. Defensive end Ray Edwards nailed Pat Williams in the face with a shaving cream pie while he was conducting an interview.
“We’re always doing something,” Williams said, laughing. “We have fun. We don’t care who we’re playing. We take it serious on Sundays. I will get him back.”
Left tackle Bryant McKinnie was a college teammate of Ravens' Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed at Miami for three years and they entered the NFL the same season. McKinnie said the two are good friends but he expects some friendly jabs from Reed on Sunday. That was the case when they faced each other in 2005.
“This will be fun because I know Ed will have a lot of things to say,” McKinnie said. “A few years ago we played them and I was jogging slow onto the field and he yelled, ‘Big Mac do you need a bicycle to get out here on the field?’ I’m sure he’ll have a lot to say.”
Ready for Ray
Vikings fullback Naufahu Tahi knows he faces a tough assignment in blocking Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis, but he said he’s excited about the opportunity to go against the future Hall of Famer.
“I always look forward to playing against guys like him,” Tahi said. “I actually like to take on big-name linebackers like that. He’s a great guy. I have a lot of respect for him. He’s respected around the league. It’s going to be a battle for me this week. He still plays at a high level. As long as he’s been there he’s been the defensive leader who makes big physical plays, their emotional leader. It’s exciting for me to go up against a player of his caliber, a future Hall of Famer.”
Lewis is in his 14th season and there’s been talk that he’s lost a step, but Tahi said he’s still an imposing presence on the field.
“He’s still the same Ray Lewis,” he said. “He’s their emotional leader who gets their defense playing at a high level. People say he might have lost a step, but inside he’s still that same player. I’m just going to get my helmet tighter and go to work.”
A favorable matchup
The Ravens rank 26th in the NFL in pass defense and their starting cornerbacks Fabian Washington and Domonique Foxworth are hearing a lot of criticism for their performance. Both are listed at 5-11, 180 pounds, which Percy Harvin said is a favorable matchup for 6-4 Sidney Rice and 6-1 Bernard Berrian.
“They’re little so Sid and Bernard will have the edge in height,” Harvin said. “There’s not going to be too many corners that can jump with Sid so we’ll always have the advantage in that.”
Ravens injury report
Baltimore Ravens left tackle Jared Gaither was one of three starters to miss practice Wednesday because of injury. Gaither hurt his neck on Oct. 4 at New England and was replaced last week by rookie Michael Oher, who moved over from right tackle. Marshal Yanda, who is listed as the Ravens' backup left guard, started at right tackle.
Also sitting out for the Ravens on Wednesday were linebacker Jarret Johnson (shoulder) and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (back). Johnson leads the Ravens with four sacks this season and had one Sunday in Baltimore's 17-14 loss to Cincinnati.
Backup tight end Edgar Jones was limited in practice because of a hamstring injury. Coach John Harbaugh, asked about Gaither and Jones, said: “They’re looking better. They’re working hard to get healthy and working hard to get back on Sunday."
The Baltimore Sun reported on its Ravens blog Wednesday that, "judging how Gaither looked Wednesday, he didn’t seem ready to play on Sunday. He couldn’t turn his head. To look to one side, he had to move his entire upper body."
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