Rice misses Ravens' practice; McGahee might start vs. Steelers

Baltimore Ravens running back Willis McGahee walked onto the practice field Wednesday wearing a broad smile.

Looking toward the several cameramen and reporters, McGahee said, "I know you guys are watching me!"

He was right, too, because McGahee could be a key figure Sunday when the Ravens take on the unbeaten Pittsburgh Steelers in an AFC North showdown.

Starting running back Ray Rice is nursing a bruised right knee and didn't practice Wednesday. The injury occurred during the fourth quarter of last Sunday's 24-17 victory over the Cleveland Browns.

If Rice can't go, McGahee will make his first start since Oct. 4, 2009 at the New England Patriots.

"I'm pretty sure I'm up for the challenge," McGahee said. "If my number is called, I'll step up to the plate."

McGahee has been primarily used over the past two seasons as the finisher in a drive. Last season, he had just 109 carries and 15 catches, but he scored 14 touchdowns.

"I look at it as, let the young guy go out there and run around and get all the yards," McGahee said. "And when it comes down to touchdown time, that's when I come in. I'm content with that."

Rice walked in the locker room without a noticeable limp, but the Ravens wouldn't let him talk to the media. Although Rice's status is in doubt, McGahee expects to begin Sunday's game on the sideline.

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"Ray's a competitor, so I doubt he's going to sit this game out. That's the kind of person that he is," McGahee said. "I don't know what's going on with him, but as far as I know, he was in the meetings with us. So why wouldn't he (play)?"

Rice made the Pro Bowl last season and was one of only two running backs (along with Tennessee's Chris Johnson) to amass more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage. McGahee finished with 544 rushing yards and a 5.0 average, and Le'Ron McClain gained 180 yards on 46 attempts.

Whether it's Rice, McGahee or McClain carrying the ball, Baltimore's offensive line will block with the same intensity and attempt to fill the same holes.

"We have or aiming points of what we're trying to do," tackle Marshall Yanda said. "It's tailored to the play, and they make their reads or cuts off that."

Center Matt Birk said: "Ray is a great talent, but we have three pretty good running backs with Ray, Le'Ron and Willis. All three have proven they can be more than effective. As far as (blocking) goes, you don't even realize who's in there."

It won't matter to the Steelers, either.

"In my opinion, their personality doesn't change very much in terms of how they attack us," Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. "That's been my experience in competing with those guys. Whether it's McClain as their featured running back -- which we've seen -- or it's McGahee or it's Ray Rice, they have a form and fashion in terms of how they attack us. Really, that's what we're preparing for."

That said, the Steelers expect to see Rice on Sunday.

"We're just going to prepare with the assumption that this guy's going to play," Tomlin said. "I think that's the prudent approach to take."

At this point, however, the Ravens have no idea who will take the majority of the handoffs Sunday.

"I don't know. I'm going to find out just like you guys are going to find out," McGahee said. "I've been in the dark for the longest. Nothing's going to change."

Notes: OT Jared Gaither was limited in practice Wednesday, nearly two months after he injured his back during training camp. Gaither was diagnosed with a slight tear in his thoracic disc, according to the team's official Web site. ... DE Cory Redding (head) and OL Tony Moll (hip) missed practice. LB Jarret Johnson (back) was limited.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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