Act III of the Ravens' four-part, preseason saga unfolds tomorrow night in Charlotte, N.C., against the Carolina Panthers. The real drama, though, is what comes next.
The first mandatory cutdown date of the season hits Tuesday, when each team must reduce its roster to 65. For some 15 would-be Ravens, Carolina will be the final curtain.
While coach Brian Billick won't make the 53-man, regular-season roster final until last cuts Aug. 27, he'll go a long way toward shaping the team this week.
"You've got to have the process in place because it's a dead sprint after the last preseason game in getting down to the 53," he said yesterday. "Not that the last game doesn't have any importance, but you'd at least like to be heading in the right direction by the end of the third game."
In a training camp marred only by freakish injury and outlandish holdouts, change is in the gentle summer breeze.
Veteran running back Jay Graham, for instance, hangs onto his roster spot by a tenuous thread. He needs to recover from a high-ankle sprain to play in next week's game at the New York Giants to fight off the challenge of Robert Arnaud for the third running back job.
While defensive tackle Tony Siragusa remains in holdout limbo, younger, more agile players scramble to fill his roster spot and his salary cap space. Among them are sixth-round draft pick Cedric Woodard and free-agent Carl Powell, both on the bubble.
In the secondary, Clarence Love and Jermaine Smith are battling for the fifth cornerback job, while safety Anthony Mitchell chases down a job that has belonged to special teams ace Bennie Thompson.
One of the more intriguing battles of camp has matched free agent John Jones with second-year veteran Ryan Collins for the third tight end spot. Jones, by virtue of his special teams hustle and raw athleticism, appears to be winning.
"He's an incredible athlete," Billick said. "He's shown the ability to run down and cover in all aspects of special teams. And he's older than the normal rookie , so there's a certain maturity there. You have a comfort zone with him being pressed into duty."
Jones, whose college career at Pittsburgh and Indiana (Pa.) spanned six seasons with one medical redshirt and a transfer, has been paying attention to Shannon Sharpe and Ben Coates, the two tight ends in front of him.
Here is a position breakdown, with the probable number kept at each spot in parentheses:
They're in: Tony Banks, Trent Dilfer, Chris Redman.
On the bubble: Dan Robinson has a shot at the practice squad.
Running backs (5)
They're in: Priest Holmes, Jamal Lewis, Sam Gash, Obafemi Ayanbadejo.
On the bubble: Jay Graham, Robert Arnaud, Jason Brookins, Alan Ricard, Corby Jones. With Graham injured, Arnaud controls his own destiny - and Graham's.
Wide receivers (6)
They're in: Qadry Ismail, Travis Taylor, Billy Davis, Jermaine Lewis, Patrick Johnson.
On the bubble: Brandon Stokley, Marcus Nash, Germany Thompson, Linton Coleman. Nash's jaw injury may have cost him. Stokley has the advantage.
Tight ends (3)
They're in: Shannon Sharpe, Ben Coates.
On the bubble: John Jones, Ryan Collins, Greg DeLong, Pedro Edison. It's Jones' athleticism vs. the experience of Collins and DeLong.
Offensive line (8-9)
They're in: Jonathan Ogden, Edwin Mulitalo, Jeff Mitchell, Mike Flynn, Harry Swayne, Spencer Folau.
On the bubble: Damon Denson, Orlando Bobo, Rod Payne, Kipp Vickers, Sammy Williams, Richard Mercier, David Camacho. Versatility counts. Bobo's ability to play center and guard may loom large.
Defensive line (7-8)
They're in: Rob Burnett, Sam Adams, Lional Dalton, Michael McCrary, Keith Washington, Martin Chase, Adalius Thomas.
On the bubble: Cedric Woodard, Marques Douglas, Carl Powell, Jarrett Loggins. Each of these guys has had his moment.
They're in: Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware, Jamie Sharper, Cornell Brown, Brad Jackson, Anthony Davis, O.J. Brigance.
On the bubble: Dennis Stallings, Calvin Wilkinson. Injuries undercut Stallings' chances.
Defensive backs (9)
They're in: Chris McAlister, Duane Starks, Rod Woodson, Kim Herring, Corey Harris, James Trapp, Robert Bailey, Anthony Poindexter.
On the bubble: Clarence Love, Jermaine Smith, Anthony Mitchell, Bennie Thompson, Lynde Washington. Love, Smith and Mitchell are neck-and-neck.
Special teamers (3)
They're in: Matt Stover, Kyle Richardson, Frank Wainright.
On the bubble: Dan McGuire, Don Icsman.
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Carolina Panthers
Site: Ericsson Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
When: Tomorow, 8 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)