The bubble will burst for some players beginning tonight when the Ravens play the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome, and it's just as tough mentally for coach Brian Billick as it is for the players.
This is the last game for some players to either step up or step backward. Usually in the final preseason game, star players such as Steve McNair, Ray Lewis or Todd Heap spend more time standing on the sideline wearing baseball caps than playing in the game. But since the Ravens missed out on nearly two quarters in the suspended game against Washington last week, Billick might give some of the regulars more playing time.
But this game is still about bubble players, mostly long shots who have just entered the league, or managed to hold on to their jobs for a few years. For the Ravens, they have to find a No. 4 receiver between Devard Darling and Clarence Moore, both fourth-year players. Neither has been outstanding, but Darling is a better blocker and plays on special teams.
Second-year running back Cory Ross leads the team in rushing during the preseason with 85 yards on 16 carries, but hasn't secured a roster spot. Edgar Jones and Dennis Haley are battling it out at linebacker, and Jamaine Winborne and Evan Oglesby are vying for a final defensive back position.
"You can't take the release of players for granted," Billick said. "This is the hardest part of our business. We break dreams in the next week. A lot of these young players have done everything right to get here. They have been standouts at their high schools and colleges, and then we tell them they're not good enough for this level. That's real-world harsh. When it doesn't hurt to tell a player, 'You're not good enough,' you should get out of the business."
Options at tackle
With Jonathan Ogden still recovering from turf toe and his status for the season opener questionable, it will be interesting to see the possible backup plans. The Ravens might have to flip-flop offensive tackles for the Cincinnati Bengals game.
Jared Gaither, a rookie out of the University of Maryland, has been filling in for Ogden, a 10-time Pro Bowl selection, at left tackle during training camp and the preseason. But it was starting right tackle Adam Terry who filled in well for Ogden for two games last season.
Wouldn't you want your best available tackle on the left side protecting McNair's blind side? Also, with Gaither struggling lately, do the Ravens start rookie Marshal Yanda at right tackle in a position he is totally familiar with?
I'm sure Billick is more concerned than Bengals coach Marvin Lewis about any possible changes.
Every year, we have these discussions and debates about the preseason. "It's too long and too boring." The players don't like it and the fans don't like it. But the owners love it because the extra games keep the cash flowing.
And don't expect it to change anytime soon. Dropping one preseason game and adding a 17th regular-season game is a lot harder than most people think, especially when you have to get the owners and the players association in some type of agreement.
So, just save the complaining until next year, folks.
Ode to Ovie
Ravens outside linebacker Bart Scott often joked with former Ravens fullback Ovie Mughelli, and he poked fun at Mughelli again earlier this week.
Mughelli signed a six-year, $18 million deal with Atlanta during the offseason, becoming the highest-paid fullback in NFL history.
"They got the Nigerian Nightmare, the No. 1 offseason acquisition," Scott said. "[Michael] Vick is such a great athlete, but that Ovie Mughelli has a lot of good athleticism at 270 pounds. Ovie is a unique talent from Africa. He's been doing his thing. He's oozing with machismo."
Another former Raven on the Falcons is quarterback Chris Redman, No. 2 on the depth chart. "Yeah, it will be great to see them," Billick said. "I haven't seen Chris for a while. It's always fun to meet up with Ovie; he's always got a story or two. So, it will be good to see them."
Offensive linemen tend to drop off the radar screen, even when they are the team's top draft pick. But Ravens offensive guard Ben Grubbs is doing quite well, thank you.
Grubbs only got five snaps last week in the weather-shortened game with Washington, but he'll get a lot more playing time tonight against the Falcons.
"I'm very, very happy with Ben," offensive line coach Chris Foerster said. "He's a very smart, mature, hardworking guy, and every time he plays, he gets more confidence. He is the smartest rookie lineman I've ever been around, and eventually we'll work him in, get him in the rotation and get him some playing time."
Suggs talks continue
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said that communication lines are still open in the negotiations between Pro Bowl defensive end-outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and the team. Suggs is in the final year of his contract, and the Ravens are likely to try to sign him to an extension before the end of this season.
Suggs, who was the Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2003 and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2004 and 2006, had a career-high 86 tackles last season.
Every time a network shows film of the Cleveland Browns, I see either rookie quarterback Brady Quinn or running back Jamal Lewis. Lewis looks really fit and ready to play. He still is stutter-stepping, but is showing that old acceleration he used to have during his heyday in Baltimore. He's scary.