Despite guarded optimism that star left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden will be able to play again this season, Baltimore Ravens officials are beginning to consider the possibility of life without the 10-time Pro Bowl performer for the rest of 2007.
And possibly for good.
It is all but certain that Ogden, who has appeared in just one of the Ravens' six games this season, will not play when Baltimore faces the Buffalo Bills on Sunday afternoon. The Ravens then have a bye week before resuming play at Pittsburgh in a critical Monday night divisional matchup on Nov. 5.
And coach Brian Billick has suggested that, if Ogden isn't able to play against the Steelers, the Ravens may have to shut him down for the year by placing him on injured reserve. By rule, that would end his season. And it could, given Ogden's recent injury problems, end the career of a player who will likely be elected to the Hall of Fame someday.
"If he's not ready for Pittsburgh, I don't know that he will be [ready to play this season]," Billick told Baltimore-area reporters. "Jonathan Oden will come back when Jonathan Ogden is ready. But if not by then, it becomes a very legitimate question: 'Geez, is this going to happen?' I don't know what the time frame would be. I don't know that the toe or the foot is going to get any stronger or better. I don't know that it isn't."
Ogden, 33, hyperextended the big toe of his left foot last season and missed virtually all of the Ravens' offseason conditioning program this spring. He contemplated retirement, opted to play in 2007 but sat out much of training camp and the preseason as he rehabilitated the toe. But in the Sept. 10 season opener against Cincinnati, he compounded the problem by spraining his left foot.
He has not played since and has practiced only sparingly.
The 12th-year veteran, Baltimore's first-round choice in the 1996 draft, allowed that he is growing frustrated by the injury situation.
"Honestly, I'm sick of this thing," Ogden told reporters. "As much as you guys are sick of asking me, I'm sick of talking to you guys about it. I wish I knew. It gets better, but it gets better so slowly. It's nothing I can even try to put a finger on right now. No matter what, I'm going to try to be back after the bye. I've just got to try to do something ... or I might as well not even bother."
The Ravens first moved right tackle Adam Terry to the left side to take Ogden's place. But Terry suffered a knee injury last week and Baltimore was forced to start rookie Jared Gaither at left tackle in Sunday's victory over St. Louis.
Moving into the second half of the season, however, Baltimore might not be able to afford the luxury of carrying Ogden on the roster if he can't play or demonstrates no signs of being able to return for the playoff stretch run. Injuries have already thinned the Ravens at tight end and linebacker and, at some juncture, Baltimore might need the roster spot that Ogden is currently occupying.
And if Ogden finishes the season on injured reserve, and the toe injury in particular is still slow to respond to treatment, he may again consider retirement.
The former UCLA star, one of the most celebrated offensive linemen of this era, has appeared in 167 regular-season games, all as a starter. Before this season, Ogden has missed only 10 games in his career, never more than four in a season.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.