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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens shaped the landscape of their roster Saturday in a final major cutdown, executing 10 more transactions to get down to the NFL limit by parting ways with a few surprising names in order to stock up on extra cornerbacks and running backs.
The Ravens released third-string quarterback Brian St. Pierre along with undrafted rookie quarterback Drew Olson, although it might be a procedural move with St. Pierre who could likely be signed back if he clears waivers. Now, the team has just two quarterbacks on the active roster with starter Steve McNair and backup Kyle Boller.
Another unusual move was retaining both rookie running backs P.J. Daniels and Cory Ross. Daniels, a fourth-round draft pick from Georgia Tech who received a signing bonus in excess of $310,000, got off to a slow start by fumbling twice against the New York Giants. However, he showed progress during the preseason and is under a three-year contract.
Ross, a 5-foot-6, 201-pound undrafted dynamo from Nebraska, made a name for himself as a return specialist and for his ability to catch the football out of the backfield. He also distinguished himself by being able to withstand a hard hit, jumping up after middle linebacker Ray Lewis knocked his helmet off on a tackle. Ross carried the football into the line on the following play.
Ross could eventually push return specialist incumbent B.J. Sams for playing time.
The Ravens are only contractually committed to starter Jamal Lewis for essentially a one-year, $6 million deal that will be reviewed after this season, and Musa Smith is playing this season under the low restricted tender of $712,000.
Veteran runner Mike Anderson signed a four-year, $8 million deal this spring, so there are scenarios where the Ravens could come back next season with Anderson and a few unproven players depending on how this season and negotiations with Lewis and Smith go.
Meanwhile, the Ravens opted to go with extra cornerbacks and one less safety.
By releasing safety Jamaine Winborne, who’s still eligible for the practice squad, Baltimore currently has just three safeties on the active roster in All-Pro Ed Reed, rookie starter Dawan Landry and ailing backup and special-teams standout Gerome Sapp. Sapp is sidelined with an intestinal infection, and it’s unclear when he’ll return.
They kept all of their remaining rookie cornerbacks, including struggling third-round draft pick David Pittman who received a $500,000 signing bonus, along with undrafted gem Ronnie Prude, an ultra-confident LSU product who’s operating as the team’s dime back, and sixth-round cornerback Derrick Martin. Martin is extremely adept at special teams.
The Ravens are currently carrying seven cornerbacks, including starters Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister, nickel back Corey Ivy, Martin, Prude, Pittman and Evan Oglesby. It’s believed that the Ravens are going to train a few of the cornerbacks to play safety, and Martin, at 5-foot-10 and 202 pounds, is the most likely candidate for that dual capacity. Oglesby impressed the coaching staff with his cover skills.
On Friday, the Ravens placed offensive guard Brian Rimpf on injured reserve, ending his season. By not waiting for his injured hamstring to heal and also cutting ties with center-guard Thatcher Szalay, the Ravens are signaling their confidence in young interior linemen Jason Brown and Chris Chester. Both are interchangeable between center and guard.
The Ravens are thin on depth, though, keeping just eight offensive linemen on the active roster.
Baltimore anointed rookie Sam Koch as not only its starting punter by terminating the contract of vested veteran Leo Araguz, but Koch will also handle kickoffs. Along with Araguz, kickoff specialist Aaron Elling was waived on Friday.
The sixth-round draft pick from Nebraska averaged 45.1 yards on 16 punts, much better than Araguz’s 37.7 average.
"I thought I did really well," said Koch, who’s residing in Westminster with his family. "I felt optimistic the whole time."
In the preseason finale against the Washington Redskins, Koch averaged 52.2 yards on four punts while Araguz averaged 34 yards on three punts. "He’s consistently shown a lot," Billick said of Koch, who also boomed his kickoffs. "The ability to do both is a big asset."
That versatility allowed the Ravens to carry one less specialist than in years past.
Defensively, backup middle linebacker Mike Smith, a fan favorite who led the Ravens in preseason tackles, edged out veteran Tim Johnson, a former Oakland Raiders special-teams ace, along with seventh-round outside linebacker/defensive end Ryan LaCasse (Syracuse) and linebacker Dennis Haley to claim one of the final roster spots.
LaCasse was the lone draft pick to not make the final roster cutdown.
On Friday, Baltimore parted ways with 2004 fifth-round draft pick Roderick Green, another classic ‘tweener end/outside linebacker who registered two sacks last season. It was fairly obvious that Green wasn’t on solid ground when he was playing in the fourth quarter with rookies against the Redskins.
The arrival of special-teams ace and situational pass rusher Gary Stills made Green expendable. Plus, second-year outside linebacker Dan Cody has made a complete recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament that cost him his entire rookie season.
The remainder of the decisions revealed Saturday were fairly predictable as the Ravens released tight end Rob Abiamiri, a former Mt. St. Joseph and University of Maryland standout, offensive tackle Mike Kracalik and defensive tackle Nick Leaders. There was also no room for wide receiver Romby Bryant, a speedster who made an impressive bid to make the team, but couldn’t overcome the superior depth ahead of him with starters Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton along with Demetrius Williams and Clarence Moore.
The other Ravens released Friday included: defensive tackle Remi Ayodele, tight end Bobby Blizzard, safety Robb Butler, linebacker Jimmy Cottrell, wide receiver Travis LaTendress and cornerback Duvol Thompson.
The Ravens also reached injury settlements with safety B.J. Ward (migraines) and wide receiver Matt Cherry (dislocated shoulder) after placing both players on injured reserve earlier this week.
NOTE: The Ravens can establish an eight-man practice squad by 4 p.m. this afternoon.