Carroll County Times

Final audition for Ravens' bubble players

The fourth preseason game is the final audition, the last opportunity for players on the bubble to make their case for a roster spot.
For many, the final preseason game won't have any bearing on whether they make a 53-man roster.
For the most part, coaches around the league already have a firm idea of what their roster will look like even before the last preseason game is played.
So for many players, the last preseason game provides a means to audition for a future employer.
The final preseason game is one where teams typically rest their starters, giving other players down the depth chart the opportunity to showcase their skills in a game setting.
But for the Ravens, tonight's final preseason game against the St. Louis could actually influence who will be on the roster come the regular season.
Baltimore coach John Harbaugh was asked Tuesday how often the fourth preseason game is the deciding factor in choosing between two players competing for a roster spot.
"Probably not often, in all reality. But I would say in this game, there are a couple of those," Harbaugh said. "There are a couple guys that, perhaps if they really, really play well, they could really play themselves on or guys could play themselves off. It's possible."
Harbaugh didn't specify which players, but there are several positions where it remains unclear who will make the roster.
Wide receiver is probably the one of most interest to many.
Former fourth-round pick Tandon Doss once appeared to be a lock to make the roster, but he's struggled during the summer and is now seemingly being pushed for a roster spot.
Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones and Brandon Stokley are considered locks to make the team at wide receiver, but Doss, Marlon Brown, Aaron Mellette, Deonte Thompson and LaQuan Williams are all in contention for what's likely to be three additional roster spots for wide receivers.
Out of the five, Thompson and Brown appear to be the safest bets to make the roster.
The other primary positions where the Ravens look to have difficult decisions to make are at tight end and along the offensive and defensive lines.
At tight end, Baltimore released Visanthe Shiancoe over the weekend, leaving Matt Furstenburg competing with Billy Bajema for its third tight end job.
Bajema is a respected presence as a run blocker and has started 51 games during nine years in the NFL, but he provides little as a pass-catcher. He has just 38 career catches.
Furstenburg is a rookie undrafted free agent, but he's had a strong summer and appears to be the more likely of the two to win a roster spot.
As far as the offensive line, seven roster spots appear to be locked up - Bryant McKinnie, Kelechi Osemele, Gino Gradkowski, Marshal Yanda, Michael Oher, A.Q. Shipley and Ricky Wagner.
Sixth-round pick Ryan Jensen is likely bound for injured reserve with the foot injury he suffered in training camp, but guard/tackle Jah Reid, guard Antoine McClain and center Reggie Stephens are all in the mix for what might be as few as one remaining roster spot for an offensive lineman.
Reid would appear to be the most likely to make the roster as a 2011 third-round pick who started seven games last year, but it's far from inconceivable that Baltimore could choose to part ways with Reid considering how much he struggled when he played last year and how underwhelming his summer has appeared to be.
Finally, along the defensive line, the only real question is whether the Ravens will keep a seventh defensive lineman.
Haloti Ngata, Chris Canty, Arthur Jones, Brandon Williams, Terrence Cody and Marcus Spears are considered locks to make the team, but 2012 seventh-round pick DeAngelo Tyson is pushing for a roster spot as well and has received positive reviews for his play this summer.
Tyson was a part of Baltimore's defensive line rotation the second half of last season.
"We'll just look at it and decide who the guys are that help us the most to be the best team we can be," Harbaugh said. "That's really what it is. ... You have to make some assumptions. We're going to need this type of a player at that position or we're going to because we have this guy here [or] we need this guy over there. Those are the things that come into play."