Decision day on rosters is near

He leads the Ravens in tackles this preseason, is blessed with some of the quickest feet among the team's linebackers, and is one of the top backups.

Yet Dennis Haley can't rest easy.


In the NFL, where the only thing that's guaranteed is that there is no guarantee, job security is never cemented until the final day of cuts. That's why Haley isn't taking anything for granted until after Saturday - the day teams are required to trim down to the 53-player limit.

"I can take confidence that I have game experience and that I've played," said Haley, 25, who played in the Ravens' final nine games last season and had a career-high 10 tackles and two deflected passes against the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 12. "But it's just one of those things where that's how it goes in this job. I can't say I'm worried. I just have to concentrate on going out there and getting the job done. Wherever the puzzle falls, that's where it's going to go."


Haley's situation isn't unlike what a multitude of players will face this week as the regular season approaches. Position depth, salary-cap restrictions and injuries are factors that the coaching staff must take into consideration in determining whether to retain or release a player.

Asked whether paring the roster from 73 to 53 is one of the worst tasks of his job, coach Brian Billick said: "Sure it is. The time and energy they've put into this and what it means, it is very, very difficult."

One tough decision might involve Jamaine Winborne, a three-year player who is listed as the backup to strong safety Dawan Landry. Because Winborne has spent two seasons on the Ravens' practice squads, he cannot be signed to the practice squad again this season.

Winborne must either make the team or find employment elsewhere. That's why Winborne is looking forward to showcasing his skills in tomorrow night's preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons.

"Every time I step on the field, I try to do that," he said. "I want to be here, but it's a business. You never know what's going to happen at the end of the day. I'm auditioning for my team and the 31 other teams. If I play good, good things will happen."

Defensive tackle Atiyyah Ellison is practically a veteran when it comes to dealing with being cut. Ellison, who has been waived four times in his two-year career, said he has learned that even being listed second on the depth chart behind Kelly Gregg doesn't chase away the butterflies as the cut deadline approaches.

"I've bounced around a couple times, so I don't get my hopes up," Ellison said. "I'm kind of immune to the hurt right now. I'm No. 2 on the depth chart right now, which I'm very happy about. But you just never know. I hope I don't have to pick up and move."

Haley's destination will depend on a few factors. His position is loaded with depth. Behind starters Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Bart Scott and Jarret Johnson are special teams standout Gary Stills and rookies Antwan Barnes and Prescott Burgess. Mike Smith, who might've taken a spot from Haley, will miss the first six weeks of the regular season while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.


One factor in Haley's favor is the speed and vision in dropping into pass coverage that he displayed with the Ravens last year.

"Once you make a team, you've gained a step ahead on all the new guys that come in the door," linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald said. "But can you maintain that step? That's the key. You have to approach every day as if it's your last day. If you do that and take that opportunity and keep pushing the envelope to get better, then you're going to have a chance. Nothing is written in stone and won't be until we're done on Sunday."

Haley said a good performance tomorrow night could solidify his standing in the eyes of the coaching staff.

"I've got to go out there and have a sound game," he said. "I can't do anything different from what I've been doing. I just have to go out there and play hard and play fast and continue to improve on my game."