OWINGS MILLS — The huge crowd inside the Baltimore Ravens’ locker room is about to thin considerably as over two dozen players are about to make their exit.
As the Ravens (2-1) conclude the preseason tonight against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome, their primary mission is still making final determinations on whom to keep and whom to cut.
The NFL roster deadline to get down to 53 players looms Saturday night, so this marks the last chance for players on the bubble to impress the coaching staff and personnel department.
That means the Ravens will be parting ways with least 27 players by Saturday, and they could cut even more if they want to save roster spots for potential waiver claims or veteran free agent signings Sunday.
That reality increases the importance of this game for several players, including promising undrafted rookie wide receiver LaQuan Williams.
“This is going to decide whether I make the team or not,” said Williams, a Baltimore native. “Just got to come out and do the best that I can. Not really much pressure, just trying to make a play when I get the opportunity.
“There’s always more to do, but I feel like I put myself in a good opportunity to succeed. We’ll see how things turn out Thursday, and I hope everything goes well.”
For the former University of Maryland player, it’s ultimately going to come down to special teams and how the Ravens crunch their numbers at other positions.
If Williams makes the team, he would be the sixth wide receiver and the Ravens would cut veterans Marcus Smith and James Hardy.
“I feel like I stood out a little bit,” Williams said. “I feel like I definitely made enough plays to stand out, not enough to secure a spot on the team, but enough to stand out. So, I’ve got to do the best I can do Thursday and take advantage of the opportunity.”
Williams has caught four passes for 84 yards, averaging 21 yards per reception. He returned a punt 38 yards.
However, the former Terrapin hasn’t recorded any special-teams tackles.
“I definitely want to come out in special teams this week and dominate,” Williams said. “I want to show up as the guy, that special-teams guy. Hopefully, that will help me out with my campaign to make the team.”
Williams isn’t alone in hoping that he’s done enough to leave a lasting impression to remain with the Ravens organization.
Rookie running back Anthony Allen is battling with incumbent Jalen Parmele for the final running back spot, if the Ravens keep that many since they have Ricky Williams in place to back up featured runner Ray Rice.
Allen dropped a potential touchdown pass a week ago against the Washington Redskins, but has rushed for 64 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries this preseason.
The former All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection is looking to give the Ravens a tough decision.
“I’m doing everything I can to prove myself,” Allen said. “It’s what you put out on film that matters the most. The film doesn’t lie.”
The Ravens’ other decisions include whether to keep Tavares Gooden or Jason Phillips at inside linebacker, how many offensive linemen they’ll hold onto, deciding between Lamar Divens and Michael McAdoo on the defensive line and if they’ll keep Davon Drew or Kris Wilson as a third tight end.
The Ravens are also contemplating whether rookie quarterback Tyrod Taylor will be the primary backup to Joe Flacco.
“Great opportunity for the young guys, no doubt about it,” coach John Harbaugh said. They’ll be playing obviously the majority of the game. This is their chance to get some tape and get some live NFL action to prove to us and the rest of the league what they can do.”
The change in the NFL kickoff rule leading to increased touchbacks has made it more difficult to evaluate young players who are going to be counted on to play special teams if they make the team.
“You can tell only so much in practice, like will a guy really go out and make a tackle?” Harbaugh said. “The guys have had limited reps. A lot of times early in the preseason, a guy will miss a couple and then he’ll start making them. You can see the progress.
“We just haven’t had enough reps in the kickoff team to see it. We’ve seen it on punt, but we haven’t seen it on kickoff. So, I think it’s a legitimate issue. It’s a negative for the young guys because it makes it tough for them to make the team.”
Meanwhile, this marks the last and only chance for Hardy to show the coaches what he can do.
An imposing former Buffalo Bills second-round draft pick, the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder has missed every preseason game to date with a hamstring problem. He’s been practicing, though, and is slated to play extensively tonight.
“We just haven’t seen him, and it’s no fault of his own,” Harbaugh said. “He’s worked really hard to get that hamstring back. The trainers will tell you, he’s been a model citizen in there. But, this was a big camp for him and he missed it. So this is his one shot.”