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Ravens most precise on last trim

Ravens executives huddled Friday afternoon for one last evaluation of the players they wanted on their roster. Such extensive assessment was unneeded when the team had to decide on a final 53 a year ago.

"This time last year, we didn't have 53 players that we really wanted. This year, we had to make some tough decisions," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "There was a lot of discussion between the personnel department and coaching staff [Friday] about who would be 50 to 53.

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"Last year, we didn't have that because it didn't matter. We didn't have 53 quality football players in our minds."

With that, the Ravens made perhaps their toughest cuts in years yesterday and will announce two more today - likely injury settlements with guard Jim Jones and another player (possibly defensive back Alvin Porter) - to get to the NFL-mandated 53-man roster.

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Veteran defensive end Riddick Parker and former Arizona Cardinals second-round pick Johnny Rutledge were the two most experienced and highest-profile players released.

Parker, a seven-year veteran, was a valuable backup last year after signing with the Ravens during the season. He posted 29 tackles and one sack and forced two fumbles, but he and defensive tackle Nate Bolling, who led the team with five preseason sacks, essentially lost the final defensive line spot to Joe Salave'a, whose solid game Thursday night against the New York Giants may have clinched his position.

"I'm excited," said Salave'a, who sat out last season after the Tennessee Titans released him. "Taking the year off after two major surgeries, you never know where you are at as far as mechanics and passion, but I think the year off really re-inspired me, and what a better place to be than here."

Rutledge had a strong game against the Giants, too, forcing a fumble and recording two third-down stops, but he didn't sign until the end of training camp and was likely bumped out by Adalius Thomas' switch to linebacker.

"With Adalius having the ability to play defensive end and outside linebacker, it afforded us the opportunity to carry some extra numbers at the defensive backs," Newsome said. "We're carrying 10 defensive backs with not knowing what the health of [Tom] Knight and Porter are going to be. And also, we're carrying six running backs because Musa [Smith] is not able to practice."

Along with Rutledge, Bolling and Parker, the Ravens waived running back Ryan Brewer, linebacker Chris Brown, receiver Todd Devoe, punter Derrick Frost, tight end Lamar Hill, cornerback Airabin Justin, receiver Marc Lester, receiver Chisom Opara, tackle Lawrence Smith and long snapper Mike Solwold.

Though team officials expressed their pleasure in this year's roster, the Ravens remain one of the league's youngest teams.

Nineteen players are in their first or second year. The average age is 24.7 years, nearly a full year younger than last season, but the average years of experience made a slight jump from 3.2 to 3.8.

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Part of the discrepancy comes from the Ravens keeping 19 rookies (10 undrafted) on last year's team, but they also had seven players who were at least 30. The Ravens have one fewer 30-something now and just seven rookies (none undrafted free agents). Only kicker Matt Stover has more than 10 years' experience.

"The exciting thing about this team is how young it is," coach Brian Billick said. "But there is a level of experience. And the direction we are going with this team, where we are contractually, where we are with the cap, it's exciting. It should be exciting for the fans of Baltimore because this team has a chance to be together for a period of time that is a bit unconventional for today's situation in the NFL as it pertains to the cap and free agency."

Receiver Randy Hymes was also placed on injured reserve after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Thursday night, effectively ending his season. If not for the injury, similar to Jamal Lewis' in 2001, Hymes would have made the roster. Now his rehabilitation is expected to last nine to 11 months.

The Ravens decided not to replace him with another receiver and will enter the season with just four on the roster. Team officials said having receivers Travis Taylor, Frank Sanders, Marcus Robinson and Ron Johnson is somewhat deceiving because tight end Todd Heap can split out to that position, and the team shuns four-receiver sets.

But the roster, as is always the case, is not set in stone.

"Over the course of the next three days, if there is a receiver or any other position that we think can upgrade our football team, then we'll go after it," Newsome said.

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The Ravens will presumably sign Bolling, Lester, Hill and possibly Smith to the five-man practice squad if the players are not claimed by other teams.

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers in season opener for both teams

Site: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh

When: Next Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

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Series: Steelers lead 11-4

Last meeting: Steelers won, 34-31, on Dec. 29, 2002, in Pittsburgh


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