Trying to stop Baltimore running back Ray Rice was already a monumental task facing the Oakland Raiders this week. Doing it without seven-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Richard Seymour will make the challenge even more daunting.
Seymour missed his second straight practice Thursday due to a lingering hamstring injury and is questionable to play in Baltimore on Sunday. The 12th-year veteran was already on a light practice schedule as a result of his troublesome knees.
Neither Seymour nor Raiders coach Dennis Allen sounded too optimistic about the prospects of the 33-year-old defender playing against the Ravens.
"I don't know, I'm not sure," Seymour said. "Hammies are tough. I've had them throughout my career. The only thing you can do is work hard. When it's ready I'll be back."
Allen has had a tendency to take an overly cautious approach at times with some of his injured players but the rookie head coach made it clear that's not the case with Seymour.
"He couldn't practice today if he had to," Allen said flatly. "We'll see where he is tomorrow."
If Seymour can't play, the Raiders would be forced to use a patchwork lineup that also has some health issues. Backup defensive tackle Desmond Bryant was pulled out of last week's loss to Tampa Bay with an irregular heartbeat, while defensive ends Matt Shaughnessy and Dave Tollefson are nursing sore shoulders.
The Raiders need all the healthy bodies they can find if they are to have any hope of slowing down Rice, a two-time Pro Bowl running back who is fifth in the AFC in rushing with 622 yards and six touchdowns.
It doesn't help that Oakland is coming off its worst showing of the season after allowing Tampa Bay rookie Doug Martin to rush for four touchdowns and a franchise record 251 yards.
Before that game the Raiders had done fairly well against the run. But the loss to the Bucs exposed several problems, most of them tackling.
Allen made that an emphasis in practice this week and put the players through a padded practice Wednesday in hopes of improving their tackling techniques after Martin gained 197 of his yards before getting hit.
"It's just focusing in," Seymour said.
Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said the majority of the Raiders breakdowns have come in basic technique and fundamentals. He noted that players were in position to stop Martin numerous times but failed to bring the rookie running back down.
"We have to tackle better," Tarver said. "We had two games where we didn't. We have to know where our help is and tackle better."
There will be even more pressure on the Raiders defense this week.
Running backs Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson are both in walking boots, leaving seldom-used Taiwan Jones and fullback Marcel Reece to split the reps in practice with the first team offense.
Oakland is also trying to sort out who its right tackle will be. Khalif Barnes, who began the season as the starter, returned to practice this week after missing six games with a groin injury. He's been splitting time in practice with backup Willie Smith and rookie Tony Bergstrom.
"Obviously, I've got some kinks to get out," Barnes said. "I've just been out there on the field trying to test the water. I don't know anything about playing."
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL