Ravens facing number choices

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Wrapping up a training camp marked by a quarterback battle and a jarring defense, the Ravens now begin the process of crunching numbers.

As they carried their bags along with their playoff hopes away from McDaniel College yesterday, the Ravens appear set on as many as 48 of the 53 players they will take to Pittsburgh for the Sept. 7 season opener.

There are two more preseason games to change the roster outlook, but the big picture will remain the same. Compared with last year's rebuilding team, there are fewer questions and tougher decisions.

"This year, it's competitive," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, who had 19 first-year players on his opening-day roster last season. "And for those guys that made it last year, it's real easy to think, 'I made it last year as a rookie, how tough can this be?' Well, some are about to find out how tough it is."

Even players considered locks aren't safe. There is speculation around the league that the Ravens are shopping around for a cornerback and an offensive lineman to add depth in their secondary and to upgrade over right guard Bennie Anderson.

According to a league source, the Ravens have talked to the Green Bay Packers about trading one of their backup nose tackles - Aubrayo Franklin preferably over Maake Kemoeatu - for a cornerback. The team brought in a backup cornerback yesterday and could make an announcement as early as today, the source added.

"The only secure spots this year are Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden," Kemoeatu said.

Veteran defensive backs such as safety Anthony Mitchell and cornerback Alvin Porter, both of whom have started games for the Ravens, are not guaranteed spots.

Grizzled defensive linemen Riddick Parker, David Nugent and Joe Salave'a are not secure.

And more than a third of this year's draft class - fullback Ovie Mughelli (fourth round), Franklin (fifth), offensive tackle Tony Pashos (fifth) and center Mike Mabry (seventh) - are not definites to make the team.

The Ravens need to pare their 83-man roster to 65 players by Tuesday, just three days after their preseason game at the Washington Redskins. Final cuts will be made Aug. 31.

For the first time in their eight camps in Westminster, the Ravens departed without a clear-cut starting quarterback.

Chris Redman started the first two preseason games, but Kyle Boller took a majority of the snaps with the starters in the final two days of camp. It would not be surprising if Boller, the 19th overall pick in the draft, made his first NFL start Saturday in Washington.

Naming the winner probably won't come anytime soon. Although the Cleveland Browns announced Kelly Holcomb as their starter over Tim Couch this week, the Ravens apparently are on a different timetable from their AFC North rival.

"You want it resolved as quickly as you can," Billick said. "Our situation is a little bit different and we're going to take this thing all the way through the preseason games to see where we're at."

Resolving the competition may come down to a gut feeling more than hard numbers.

"It wasn't going to come down to the clinical: this many throws, this many catches, this many turnovers and this many touchdowns," Billick said. "It's much more subjective than that. It's going to have something to do with the demeanor of the quarterback, how he moved the team and the grasp of what we're doing."

The players played down the question mark at quarterback being a distraction to the offense, which has averaged 16 points in two preseason games.

"Whoever is back there, that's who we're going to block for," left guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "It's not that big of a deal for us. We just have to give whoever is back there a chance."

The 23-day camp ended fittingly, as the defense held the offense out of the end zone in the final drill.

Led by linebacker Ray Lewis, the defense has set the tone of camp and preseason, holding the Buffalo Bills and Atlanta Falcons to a total of 16 points and an average of 201 yards of total offense.

"A lot of the guys grew up and a lot of the younger guys got to understand the philosophy," said Adalius Thomas, who has gone from end to outside linebacker in camp. "I thought it was very important that we came out here and ended on a good note."

The Ravens ended training camp yesterday and will have to trim their 83-man roster to 65 on Tuesday. Here's a projection on how the final 53-man roster is shaping up:

Offense

P In Bubble Long shot

QB Redman, Boller, None Lytle

Wright

RB J.Lewis, C. Taylor, None Hunter, Brewer

M. Smith

FB Ricard, Morrow Mughelli None

OL Ogden, Mulitalo, Cook, Pashos, Mabry, L.Smith,

Flynn, O.Brown, Thomas Jim Jones

Anderson, Brooks,

Rabach

TE Heap, T. Jones, None Hill

John Jones

WR T. Taylor, Sanders, Lester Wynn, Opara,

Robinson, R.Johnson, Devoe, H. Smith

Hymes

Defense

DL Gregg, Weaver, Kemoeatu, Freeman

Douglas, J. Johnson Franklin, Parker,

Nugent, Salave'a,

Bolling

LB R. Lewis, Hartwell, Rutledge, Arnold, Givan

Boulware, Suggs, Ch.Brown, Stamper

A. Thomas, Harris,

C. Brown, Scott

CB McAlister, Fuller, Porter A. Smith, Justin

Knight

S Reed, Baxter, Mitchell Perryman

Williams, Demps,

Sapp

Special teams

K Stover None None

P Zastudil None None

RS Brightful None None

LS Maese None Solwold

KS Jenkins Frost None

Note: Receiver Javin Hunter and tight end Trent Smith will be placed on injured reserve.

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