OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens running back Willis McGahee is currently limited to running in a swimming pool as he recuperates from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, but he expects to be running with the football when the season starts.
Although he's off crutches, McGahee isn't able to jog yet. He's targeting the Ravens' Sept. 7 season-opener against the Cincinnati Bengals for his return.
"I will be ready, but I don't know about playing in the preseason," McGahee said. "We will have to wait and see. It's always making progress. Every day I come out here, it's getting better."
Because he can't run yet and the clock is ticking down to the opener, McGahee is making the most out of his aquatic workouts.
"I know it ain't exactly running, but running in the pool is great conditioning," McGahee said. "Just ask Michael Phelps."
McGahee underwent surgery during training camp, having the procedure in Coral Gables, Fla., at the same hospital where doctors surgically repaired a devastating injury to his left knee during the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. McGahee was relieved that there wasn't more damage revealed during his exploratory surgery.
Now, he's trying to work his way back in shape from a much less serious setback.
"It's not the same rehab, it's totally different," McGahee said. "This is like a walk in the park."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh acknowledged that there's a chance that McGahee may miss the entire preseason.
"There is a timetable, but I'd have to say it's fluid because you just don't know for sure," Harbaugh said. "That's the thing coaches ask all the time: 'Tell us when he's going to be back.' We want that answer, too, but it's impossible."
While offensive coordinator Cam Cameron installs a new offense that features the tailback, McGahee is missing valuable repetitions after skipping the majority of the offseason minicamps.
"There are certain things you need to be on the field to see," McGahee said. "Right now, they're throwing the whole playbook at us and they want you to remember it all. What they did the first day, they might not bring it back up again until today and I'm like, 'Man, I don't remember all this.'"
McGahee is in no apparent danger of losing his job to rookie second-round pick Ray Rice, who rushed for 77 yards and a touchdown in a 23-15 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Harbaugh has reiterated that McGahee remains entrenched as the starter.
Four-time Pro Bowl fullback Lorenzo Neal is looking forward to forming a productive tandem with McGahee when he returns.
"He's a physical man, and we just want him to have a speedy recovery so we can get him out here on the field," Neal said. "We're going to need that guy because he's definitely a workhorse. The guy is a great back."
Meanwhile, free safety Ed Reed remains a question mark for the opener due to a left shoulder injury that involves nerves. Harbaugh backed off his previous stance where he expressed confidence that the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year would definitely be starting against Cincinnati.
Reed hasn't been cleared for contact and has expressed reservations about his medical outlook for the start of the season.
"I think it's a little more slow progress than we all thought it was going to be," Harbaugh said. "Maybe Ed has a sense of that at one time because he's the guy that feels it. We're still optimistic that he'll be there the first week, but I don't think you can say 'definitely' right now."
With Reed sidelined, veteran Jim Leonhard has started the first two preseason games. Rookie draft picks Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura are the Ravens' other options.
Reed has been grimacing in pain whenever someone bangs into his upper body, and doesn't seem to have full range of motion or strength.
"We continue to have doctors look at him, because we want to be absolutely sure," Harbaugh said. "It's not just about his ability to play in a game. Right now, nobody thinks he's at risk in any way, but we want to make darn sure that's the case"
NOTE: Other key players who remain questionable for the opener are nose guard Kelly Gregg (left arthroscopic knee surgery), wide receiver Demetrius Williams (left Achilles' tendon) and offensive tackle Jared Gaither (sprained right ankle).
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press