ALAMEDA – Justin Ellis last played in the Raiders' season opener. The defensive tackle hadn’t practiced with the team for much longer while he was on injured reserve with a foot injury.
That long drought ended Thursday, when he was he was formally designated to return off injured reserve. Ellis now has a 21-day window for him to practice as a roster exemption. If he isn’t ready after three weeks, the Raiders must put him on season-ending IR.
That isn’t expected. Ellis should return to the 53-man roster, a move that can be made whenever he’s ready.
Suiting up again on game day would be a major milestone but, after so much time away from the team, Ellis still enjoyed Thursday’s return to full practice.
“I was smiling inside,” Ellis said. “I have been working hard trying to knock the rust off, but it was awesome to be out there with the guys again. It was a great feeling.”
Ellis should help a struggling run defense anchor the middle, and absorb blocks so others can make tackles. That was the logic behind signing him to a three-year, $15 million deal this offseason.
He hasn’t been able to do that much, although in-season signing Johnathan Hankins has been solid in his stead. Getting Ellis back is an upgrade for the entire line, and he should help whenever he’s ready.
“It changes us,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “You could have two big bodies to stuff up the middle, and they're not just slugs in there. They're athletes, big guys who can move. Having both of those guys available would be a big asset."
Though it seems unlikely, Guenther says there’s a chance Ellis returns to play the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
"It would be great to get him back,” Guenther said. “... If he looks good and feels good, hopefully he'll be up and running Sunday."
That still seems like a long shot.
If he remains inactive, Ellis could return against the Kansas City Chiefs at home the following week, with more practices under his belt.
It’s also uncertain whether receiver Jordy Nelson will return after two straight limited practices while dealing with a bone bruise near his knee.
Cornerback Leon Hall missed his second straight practice with a back injury, leaving Nick Nelson in line to play significant snaps in the slot.
Raiders practice report
Did not practice
WR Martavis Bryant (knee)
CB Leon Hall (back)
C Rodney Hudson (ankle)
S Karl Joseph (ribs)
RB Doug Martin (ankle)
OT Kolton Miller (knee)
WR Jordy Nelson (knee)
OG Kelechi Osemele (knee)
DE Frostee Rucker (neck)
CB Daryl Worley (shoulder)
CB Gareon Conley (groin)
OG Gabe Jackson (pectoral)
Ravens practice report
Did not practice
QB Joe Flacco (hip)
OT James Hurst (back)
DE Anthony Levine (ankle)
CB Tavon Young (groin)
LB Tim Williams (ankle)
S Eric Weddle (not injury related)
OG Marshall Yanda (not injury related)