Trim­ming ros­ter to 53 makes for tough cuts

Team must re­move 22 from ac­tive ros­ter to­day; re­turner Hester works out

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jeff Zre­biec

The Ravens ros­ter re­mained at 75 through Fri­day, leav­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s top de­ci­sion-mak­ers with a flurry of moves to make be­fore this af­ter­noon’s dead­line to get down to 53 play­ers.

A day af­ter fin­ish­ing their sixth un­de­feated pre­sea­son in fran­chise his­tory, the Ravens worked out veteran re­turn spe­cial­ist Devin Hester, the lat­est in­di­ca­tion the team is still ex­plor­ing op­tions for a pri­mary re­turn man. Hester, the NFL’s all-time leader in re­turn t ouch­downs, was not i mme­di­ately signed, although he re­mains an op­tion as the Ravens try to set­tle on a ros­ter for their reg­u­lar-sea­son opener against the Buf­falo Bills on Sept. 11 at M&T Bank Sta­dium.

The Ravens will have to move 22 play­ers off their ac­tive ros­ter by 4 p.m. Tight ends Dar­ren Waller and Nick Boyle will go to the re­serve/sus­pended list to start the reg­u­lar sea­son, tak­ing care of two of the spots. Many of the other de­ci­sions will be chal­leng­ing for coach John Har­baugh, whose team’s depth was ev­i­dent dur­ing the un­de­feated pre­sea­son. Sea­son opener Sept. 11, 1 p.m. TV: Ch. 13 Ra­dio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

“I told the guys that though we can’t keep ev­ery player, we sure wish we could,” Har­baugh said af­ter the team’s 23-14 vic­tory over the New Or­leans Saints on Thurs­day night.

“I wish we had a big­ger ros­ter. I wish that when you draft guys and you de­velop guys that you are al­lowed to keep guys and con­tinue to de­velop them and have them later in the year when the in­jury bug hits.”

Har­baugh steers clear of com­par­isons, but he and his staff ap­pear to have more dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions to make this year. That’s part of hav­ing an 11-man draft class and get­ting so many ac­com­plished vet­er­ans back from sea­son-end­ing in­juries last year.

Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters for Har­baugh is the num­ber of play­ers who have been side­lined from re­cent prac­tices and games be­cause of in­juries. The hope is that tight ends Den­nis Pitta and Maxx Wil­liams, left guard John Urschel, nose tackle Bran­don Wil­liams and safety Ken­drick Lewis will re­turn to prac­tice next week and be ready to face the Bills.

How­ever, other play­ers, in­clud­ing run­ning back Ken­neth Dixon, out­side line­backer Za’Dar­ius Smith, de­fen­sive tackle Carl Davis and safety Matt Elam, do not ap­pear to be as close to a re­turn. That leaves Har­baugh hav­ing to make sure the team is cov­ered at ev­ery po­si­tion in the short term, while also try­ing to ad­here to the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s phi­los­o­phy of tak­ing the best 53 play­ers.

“I’m ex­cited for all their fu­tures,” said Har­baugh, who ac­knowl­edged that he wasn’t look­ing for­ward to hav­ing to cut many play­ers whom he sees as be­ing NFL-cal­iber.

“I thought that, if any­thing, guys played them­selves into jobs. No­body played them­selves out of jobs. Ev­ery­body played solid foot­ball, played hard.”

If the Ravens sign Hester, it ob­vi­ously would not bode well for the ros­ter chances of wide re­ceivers Michael Cam­pa­naro (River Hill) and Keenan Reynolds (Navy). Both are among the 10 play­ers the Ravens have used to re­turn kicks or punts in the pre­sea­son.

Reynolds’ ros­ter fate was pretty much sealed ear­lier in the sum­mer with his strug­gles to hold on to punts and kicks in prac­tice and his seem­ing in­abil­ity to get much sep­a­ra­tion as a re­ceiver. The for­mer Navy star quar­ter­back had just one catch for 2 yards in the four pre­sea­son games, and is no bet­ter than eighth on the team’s wide re­ceiver depth chart be­hind Steve Smith Sr., Mike Wal­lace, Ka­mar Aiken, Bre­shad Per­ri­man, Cam­pa­naro, Jeremy But­ler and Chris Moore. Chris Matthews is in that mix as well.

“I al­ways say ev­ery­thing is go­ing to work out the way it’s sup­posed to,” Reynolds said Wide re­ceiver-re­turner Michael Cam­pa­naro (River Hill) fum­bles a kick­off in Thurs­day night’s win over the Saints. The Ravens worked out Devin Hester, the NFL’s all-time leader in re­turn touch­downs, on Fri­day, the lat­est in­di­ca­tion the team is still ex­plor­ing op­tions for a pri­mary re­turn man. af­ter Thurs­day’s game. “Whether that be me mak­ing the team or not, what­ever it is, there’s a higher plan in place.”

There are de­ci­sions to make at pretty much ev­ery po­si­tion. Even at quar­ter­back. Ryan Mallett has been the ex­pected backup for Joe Flacco all along, and that re­mains the case, but jour­ney­man Josh John­son at least gave the or­ga­ni­za­tion some­thing to think about by ac­count­ing for four touch­downs in the pre­sea­son.

At run­ning back, Justin Forsett and Ter­rance West (Tow­son Univer­sity, North­west­ern High) are on track to go into the sea­son as the team’s top two ball car­ri­ers, but there is sud­denly some in­trigue in­volv­ing Buck Allen’s sta­tus af­ter the sec­ondyear back had an un­even pre­sea­son. Allen’s spot could be ten­u­ous with Dixon not ex­pected to miss much time.

The Ravens’ top six of­fen­sive line­men are set with Ron­nie Stan­ley, Jeremy Zut­tah, Mar­shal Yanda, Rick Wag­ner, Urschel and rookie Alex Lewis. How­ever, the Ravens must de­cide among holdovers Ryan Jensen, De’On­dre Wes­ley and James Hurst, and veteran Vlad Du­casse for two or three re­serve spots.

Along the de­fen­sive line, the Ravens might have to choose among rookie fourthround pick Wil­lie Henry, veteran Kapron Lewis-Moore and un­drafted free agent Michael Pierce for one spot. The rest of the de­fen­sive line ro­ta­tion fig­ures to in­clude starters Bran­don Wil­liams, Timmy Jerni­gan and Lawrence Guy, and re­serves Ur­ban and Davis, as­sum­ing the lat­ter re­turns soon, af­ter he hurt his an­kle against the Saints.

Pierce, a rookie out of Sam­ford, made his case by cap­ping a strong pre­sea­son with a strip sack and a fum­ble re­cov­ery for a touch­down against New Or­leans.

“I’m happy with what I did through­out the pre­sea­son, blessed to get the reps I did in camp,” Pierce said af­ter Thurs­day game. “What­ever it is, we’re go­ing to roll with it.”

At cor­ner­back, the Ravens have some choices to make be­hind starters Jimmy Smith and Sha­reece Wright, and rookie fourth-round pick Tavon Young. De­spite a shaky pre­sea­son, Jer­raud Pow­ers seems likely to make the team. That leaves Will Davis, rookie Mau­rice Canady and Shel­don Price bat­tling for one or two spots.

“There are a lot of good play­ers that are go­ing to be out the next two days,” Har­baugh said.

There’s also the chance that the Ravens, who have the sixth over­all waiver claim by virtue of their 5-11 fin­ish last year, bring in more play­ers that were ei­ther let go by other teams or are free agents. Hester was re­leased by the At­lanta Fal­cons in late July af­ter a sea­son in which he was lim­ited to five games be­cause of a toe in­jury.

Hester had surgery this off­sea­son and the Ravens, who have strug­gled through­out the pre­sea­son to find a pri­mary re­turn man, wanted to see how far along he was in his re­cov­ery. Hester wrote on his In­sta­gram ac­count Aug. 24 that he’d be ready in about two weeks.

The for­mer Chicago Bear holds the NFL record for re­turn touch­downs with 20 and punt-re­turn scores with 14.

CHRIS GRAYTHEN/GETTY IM­AGES

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