Ravens trim to 53 today, but back door not closed

3rd at position eyed

8 free agents waived

Final Ravens cuts due today, though RB options still open

September 02, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The Ravens have started making their last cuts and plotting their next additions.

The team will make its final cutdown today, trimming its roster to 53, but it will also keep a close eye on the waiver wire, scouring for upgraded depth at any position, though the focus will remain on running back.

Since losing Jamal Lewis to a season-ending knee injury on Aug. 8, the Ravens' ground game has switched from a strength to a concern. The current running backs, Terry Allen and Jason Brookins, have stalled with the first-team offense in the preseason, and there is a growing need to acquire a third wheel.

"We're prepared to go with what we've got," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "But I'm sure they'll be some names that will cross the wire that will pique our interest."

The Super Bowl champions, who will open the regular season next Sunday against Chicago, began whittling their roster yesterday, waiving eight rookie free agents: linebackers Kenny Jackson and Tim Johnson, defensive end Corey Callens, defensive tackle Ryan Fisher, tight end Billy Kendall and offensive linemen Jim Jones, David Pruce and Chris Watton.

The team will announce its final 10 cuts today, and some decisions became clearer after Friday's preseason finale.

Defensive tackle Kelly Gregg and defensive end Dwayne Missouri both appeared to have won jobs with their performances in the 38-9 rout of the New York Giants. That may not bode well for the likes of wide receiver Germany Thompson and fullback Alan Ricard.

However, the situation at running back didn't change.

Allen showed more velocity hitting the line of scrimmage than in his debut, but he managed only 29 yards on 12 carries. Brookins gobbled up 112 yards on 10 carries, an outing watered down by the fact it came against second- and third-tier players.

At this time, the strategy is to keep Allen as the starter, use Brookins more in the second half to wear down defenses and mix in Obafemi Ayanbadejo with single-back sets.

"I'm going to hear the litany that `the running back committee doesn't work,' " Billick said. "You're right, it doesn't. It does not work, but that's where we're at. So shoot me. Those are the cards on the table.

"We're going to do what we can with it. We've got a lot of faith in Terry, and we're developing more and more faith in Brook. We know Femi [Obafemi Ayanbadejo] can carry the ball a little bit. We're going to manufacture it as best we can."

To add a running back, the Ravens have a number of options, knowing they sit last on the waiver list as Super Bowl champions.

They could gamble to see if a released player goes unclaimed by the 30 teams ahead of them or trade as high as a sixth-round draft choice to pick up a running back before he is released. They also could sign a vested veteran (a player with four or more years experience), who does not have to go through waivers upon release.

"We've had calls [about trades]," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of football operations. "But right now, nothing has been enticing to us."

Green Bay has been shopping reserve backs Herbert Goodman and De'Mond Parker, but the Ravens haven't jumped since neither is considered an improvement over Brookins.

The Ravens also didn't pay much interest to the possible release of San Francisco's Garrison Hearst, who needed to have his contract restructured to remain with the team. The 49ers and Hearst are reportedly closing in on a new deal.

The only notable running back released so far has been Jonathan Linton, who was cut by Tennessee on Friday. But the Ravens are not expected to pursue Linton, the Buffalo Bills' leading rusher in 1999.

For now, the team is banking on Allen and Brookins, but they aren't necessarily sold on them. Allen has gained 37 yards on 16 carries (2.3 yards per attempt) this preseason, and Brookins has yet to play a down in a regular-season game.

"I'm always concerned," Billick said after the preseason finale. "We could have 190 yards [rushing] and I'm still going to be concerned. It will be what it will be. The line has to play better. Terry's getting more comfortable with what we're doing and probably is getting in better shape. That's what's going to be there for Chicago. So that's it."

NOTE: Despite carrying just six linebackers, the Ravens are still unsure whether they could re-sign O.J. Brigance, a special teams ace on last year's championship team. Brigance would only be signing for the veteran's minimum of $477,000, but that would still make their salary-cap situation extremely tight.

The roster breakdown

The Ravens waived eight rookie free agents yesterday, shaving their roster to 63. The final 10 cuts will be made today. Here's a breakdown:

LOCKS

Quarterback (3): Elvis Grbac, Randall Cunningham, Chris Redman.

Tailback (2): Terry Allen, Jason Brookins.

Fullback (2): Sam Gash, Obafemi Ayanbadejo.

Wide receiver (5): Qadry Ismail, Brandon Stokley, Travis Taylor, Patrick Johnson, Jermaine Lewis.

Tight end (3): Shannon Sharpe, Todd Heap, John Jones.

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