Baltimore Ravens quarterback Chris Redman reported to practice yesterday with a sore back, missed the walk-through for today's pivotal home AFC North game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and was listed as questionable.
A team spokesman said it was unclear how Redman developed the soreness.
While his teammates went through a light practice, Redman underwent treatment. If he cannot play, veteran backup Jeff Blake -- signed as an unrestricted free agent last spring -- would make his first appearance of the season.
In 10 NFL seasons, with the Cincinnati Bengals and New Orleans Saints, Blake has thrown 106 touchdowns and been intercepted 72 times. He was more productive in training camp and the preseason than Redman, but Redman has played at least respectably in five of the six regular season games.
Redman's uncertainty adds more spice to the battle of 3-3 teams. The winner today has sole possession of first place in the division and the loser could drop to third, behind the Cleveland Browns (3-4).
Steelers tailback Jerome Bettis (knee) and center Jeff Hartings (knee) are out and Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis (shoulder) is listed as questionable although he went through light practices with the team the last two days for the first time in three weeks.
"You'd like to have everyone healthy, but no one does," Steelers Coach Bill Cowher said. "Your team is going to be measured by the quality of the performances of people that have to step in. I'm very confident we have very qualified backups."
Bettis did not play in the final two games against the Ravens last year, in Baltimore late in the regular season and at home in the second round of the AFC playoffs. The Steelers won each time, with backup Amos Zereoue running for 73 yards in the first game and for 63 and two touchdowns in the victory that sent them to the AFC title game.
With the smaller but quicker Zereoue, the Ravens' strategy remains the same.
"Put the pounding Bettis would get on Zereoue," outside linebacker Cornell Brown said.
Tommy Maddox, who has replaced frequent Ravens nemesis Kordell Stewart at quarterback, expects no problem with second-year Chukky Okobi replacing Hartings.
Without Ray Lewis, the Ravens have gone 1-1, mostly because the young defense has played better than expected and tailback Jamal Lewis has remained very effective in helping carry the offense. The defense may be without veteran end Michael McCrary (knee), who is listed as doubtful.
Redman mostly has been effective as the option after Jamal Lewis, completing 55 percent of his 182 passes for 1,034 yards and seven touchdowns. He has been intercepted three times. Last season's quarterback, Elvis Grbac, had 15 touchdown passes and 18 interceptions.
A concern for the Ravens is the health of their offensive line. Injuries last Sunday in the victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars caused a reshuffling.
Edwin Mulitalo said he is back at left guard after having to man right tackle against the Jaguars. Right tackle Ethan Brooks, who missed the Jaguars game with knee and back injuries, is listed as probable.
J.R. Jenkins, who also missed that game with a leg injury, is still questionable. His long kickoffs have been a key to the Ravens gaining field position advantage. Matt Stover has been accurate with field goals, but has come up short on kickoffs the last season or so.
"We're hoping Jenkins is up," Billick said. "If he isn't, Matt kicks off and we deal with it. The return game, field position always is a big factor in these games."