The Ravens pared their roster down to the NFL's required 53-player limit Saturday, choosing to keep two quarterbacks and seven wide receivers and leaving themselves thin at cornerback and along the offensive and defensive lines.
Among their 13 cuts were veteran guard A.Q. Shipley, who started nine games last year; outside linebacker John Simon, a fourth-round draft pick in 2013; quarterback Keith Wenning, a sixth-round selection in May; and veteran cornerbacks Dominique Franks and Derek Cox.
With Wenning's release, the Ravens will enter their fifth straight season with just two quarterbacks on the roster. If he clears waivers, Wenning is a prime candidate to join the Ravens' 10-man practice squad, which the team can begin to form Sunday afternoon.
"It's always challenging," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said a couple of hours before the team announced the 53-man roster, which will remain under construction up until the team's Sept. 7 regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. He added: "A lot of guys will be back. A lot of guys will be part of the practice squad, different things like that. But it's challenging, because when a guy walks in your room, as a head coach or if you're any kind of a person at all, immediately, you put yourself in their shoes. You become empathetic to what they're going through, and that's just how you feel about it."
Ravens officials remained busy after Saturday's 4 p.m. deadline, poring over the waiver wire for potential fits while trying to strengthen the back end of their roster and several positions of need.
The Ravens' latest moves left them with nine offensive linemen, five defensive linemen and four cornerbacks. The release of Cox, a veteran corner whom the Ravens signed Wednesday, may end up as merely a procedural move. The Ravens are expected to re-sign Cox as early as Sunday, according to a source.
Still, the initial jettisoning of four cornerbacks — undrafted rookies Tramain Jacobs and Sammy Seamster also were let go — bodes well for the health of three veterans at the position. Lardarius Webb (back), Jimmy Smith (chest bruise) and Asa Jackson (ankle sprain) have missed significant time in the preseason, but all three returned to the practice field Saturday.
"It was encouraging to see that," Harbaugh said.
Overall, the Ravens' cutdown day brought a few minor surprises. Undrafted rookies James Hurst, an offensive tackle out of North Carolina, and Zach Orr, an inside linebacker from North Texas, were considered long shots to make the team, but both survived the team's roster cuts.
The plan is for Hurst and Jah Reid to serve as swing tackles behind starters Eugene Monroe and Rick Wagner. Meanwhile, Orr, one of six inside linebackers on the 53-man roster, made the team largely on the strength of his special teams play.
The Ravens decided to keep seven wide receivers, including the three — rookie Michael Campanaro (River Hill), Deonte Thompson and Kamar Aiken — who were believed to be competing for one or two spots. The Ravens did put undrafted rookie receiver Jeremy Butler (shoulder) on injured reserve, but they made no other moves at the position.
They also kept seven safeties, though Will Hill, like running back Ray Rice, won't count toward the 53-man roster because of a pending six-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. Darian Stewart and Matt Elam are the projected starters, and behind them are rookie third-round pick Terrence Brooks, Brynden Trawick, Anthony Levine and Jeromy Miles.
While Wenning's release was expected, given Harbaugh's willingness to carry just two quarterbacks, Shipley and Simon were probably the Ravens' two biggest cuts. Shipley started last season when Kelechi Osemele went out with a season-ending back injury and was working as the second-team left guard throughout training camp.
But the Ravens let him go Saturday, seemingly comfortable with backup center Gino Gradkowski and rookie fifth-round pick John Urschel as their top reserve interior offensive linemen.
"I've been around for a little while, and you see it all the time. It's part of the deal," said Monroe, whom the Ravens acquired in a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars last October. "In a way, it happened to me during the middle of last year. You wish the best for the guys that get cut and you work with the guys that you have. Me and A.Q. battled together pretty much all of last season. Knowing what kind of guy he is, I know he'll stick somewhere and do well somewhere."
Simon, a former Ohio State standout, played in only seven games last year, buried on the depth chart behind outside linebackers Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Courtney Upshaw and Pernell McPhee. Still, the Ravens traditionally give their draft picks, especially those taken in the middle rounds, more time to develop.
With Saturday's release of Simon and center-guard Ryan Jensen, four of the Ravens' 10 picks from the 2013 draft are no longer in the organization.
Other releases included running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, tight end Phillip Supernaw, offensive tackle Parker Graham, and defensive tackles Jamie Meder and A.J. Pataiali'i. All are candidates to join the practice squad.
The Ravens also placed veteran nose tackle Terrence Cody on the physically unable to perform list.
Quarterbacks: Joe Flacco, Tyrod Taylor
Defensive backs: Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, Darian Stewart, Matt Elam, Asa Jackson, Chykie Brown, Terrence Brooks, *Will Hill, Anthony Levine, Jeromy Miles, Brynden Trawick
**Reserve-physically unable to performCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun