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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The revolving door is about to spin with a series of exits from the Baltimore Ravens’ training complex. And the preoccupation of living on the NFL bubble is a reality for multiple athletes as the Ravens are poised for their final major roster cutdown on Saturday.
The Ravens must release 22 players to get down to a league-mandated 53-man roster, which means tonight’s game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field represents one final chance to leave a lasting impression on the organization.
“People would do well to remember that it’s not a matter of them just not making the team,” Ravens coach Brian Billick said. “This is a life’s dream. Their whole life they’ve wanted to be in the NFL and, in a week’s time, that dream is either going to be fulfilled or ended. They are having fun and they are bright-eyed, but there is some anxiety. You can feel it.”
Several players are trying to overcome a numbers game at stacked positions.
Will rookie running back P.J. Daniels’ status as a fourth-round draft pick who received a signing bonus just over $310,000 override his pair of fumbles in his NFL debut? Will the Ravens keep four running backs?
“You never know what the coaches really think about you and what’s going to happen, so you can’t worry about it,” said Daniels, who has a team-high 18 carries but only gained 47 yards. “I want to prove I belong on this team and that they can count on me. I plan on making every second count.”
Whereas Daniels arrived with some status, fellow rookie runner Cory Ross has had to overcome not being a draft pick and a lack of size. The 5-foot-6, 200-pound undrafted free agent has impressed with his speed and toughness. He has performed adeptly as a return specialist, but doesn’t appear to have toppled incumbent B.J. Sams. Ross has returned four punts for a 12.5 average, and six kickoffs for a 23.5 average.
“I can’t lose sleep worrying about it," Ross said. "I’m going to compete until they tell me if I’m on the team or not.”
The offensive line is unlikely to carry more than nine linemen, leaving the team to make a decision between interior blockers Thatcher Szalay and Brian Rimpf, who’s recovering from a strained hamstring.
The team will only keep three quarterbacks on the active roster — Steve McNair, Kyle Boller and Brian St. Pierre — meaning rookie Drew Olson is hoping for a spot on the practice squad.
The Ravens are unlikely to keep more than these five receivers: Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, Devard Darling, Demetrius Williams and Clarence Moore. They’ll likely only keep three tight ends: Todd Heap, Daniel Wilcox and Quinn Sypniewski.
It looks like rookie Sam Koch has won the punting competition over veteran Leo Araguz, and it’s possible that Koch’s ability on kickoffs could alleviate the need for kickoff specialist Aaron Elling.
The respective merits of linebackers/special-teams contributors Roderick Green, Ryan LaCasse, Tim Johnson and Mike Smith will be debated for one of the final spots. Smith has had a strong preseason with a team-high 14 tackles along with two sacks and a forced fumble.
When safety B.J. Ward was placed on injured reserve this week, it significantly boosted the chances for backup safety Jamaine Winborne.
Meanwhile, third-round cornerback David Pittman hasn’t demonstrated much mettle because of a nagging hamstring injury. However, the team is unlikely to give up on him because of his $500,000 signing bonus and his potential. If Pittman is safe and with impressive undrafted rookie corner Ronnie Prude penciled in as the dime back, then the odds appear long for sixth-round corner Derrick Martin and other reserve defensive backs.
“We’re going to put some good athletes out on the street,” Billick said. “There are some players who can play in this league that we are going to have to push out the door, and that’s a good thing because that means we have someone who we think is better."
A former Brigham Young tight end, Billick was cut when he tried out for the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys. So, he knows what it feels like for a door to close.
“It’s not easy to hear that your career is done, that you’re just not good enough to play,” Billick said. “They are good young people, and that’s the part of the business that is the most distasteful thing that I do.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.