Ravens trim roster to 53, will add Gash

Fullback to re-sign today, team officials say

veteran will be backup to Ricard

New-look squad has 19 rookies

Boulware's new contract could be completed by next week, says source

August 31, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

On the day when the Ravens officially became one of the youngest teams in NFL history, they addressed a couple of aging matters.

After trimming down to the league's 53-player roster limit, team officials confirmed that fullback Sam Gash will re-sign with the Ravens today, and a league source indicated there is a possibility that linebacker Peter Boulware's contract extension could be completed by next week. Gash will be brought in as a backup/tutor to Alan Ricard, and Boulware is expected to be locked up long term before finishing the final year of his current contract.

That experience will be extremely valuable for a Ravens team that has gone from graybeards to greenhorns in seven months.

Last year, the Ravens ended the season with a 53-man roster that had 16 veterans over 30 years old and seven rookies. Now, after yesterday's final cutdown, they are carrying 19 rookies - 10 of whom were undrafted - and only seven 30-something veterans.

The Ravens' staggering youth movement overshadows the beginnings of the three 1990s expansion teams, which had no more than 15 rookie or first-year players on their rosters.

"The youth of this team is undeniable, but we will not use that as an excuse for a lack of productivity," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "There are still enough assets on this team. We have enough guys who have been in a Super Bowl, championship game or Pro Bowl to expect a certain level of productivity. But the youth is going to have to step up in a way that they probably didn't envision when they were drafted or signed here."

To reach the 53-man limit, the Ravens released one draft pick - seventh-round quarterback Wes Pate - and 13 free agents: fullback Marvin Brown, tight end Jonathan Burrough, receivers Kenyon Hambrick, Randy Hymes and Marc Lester, guard Jim Jones, offensive tackle Lawrence Smith, defensive tackles Omari Jordan, Salem Simon and Ben Williams, cornerbacks Reggie Waddell and Jason Olford and linebacker Rod Taylor.

It is believed that Hymes, Jones, Pate and Smith will be asked to return on the practice squad.

But this roster is far from being set and should undergo some changes in the upcoming weeks. The Ravens will likely add two or three more veterans cut from other teams.

One of those additions could be fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo if he is released by the Miami Dolphins. Another strong possibility is bringing in a wide receiver since the team has only four on its roster.

"That's clearly an area we can hopefully address," Billick said. "If we can find a guy who was a receiver and a punt returner, that would be huge."

By cutting Pate, the Ravens have chosen to go with two quarterbacks instead of three. On game days, punter Dave Zastudil will be the emergency quarterback.

This maneuver provided the luxury of using a roster spot on kickoff specialist J.R. Jenkins.

"That's just a unique roster thing," said Billick, who has had his top two quarterbacks knocked out of the same game only once. "When you think about it, other than the vulnerability in a specific game, that allows us to keep a guy on the 53 that you might not otherwise do."

The final cutdown was clear-cut.

Nate Bolling won the last job on the defensive line over Simon and Jordan. Shawn Byrdsong edged out Waddell and Olford in the defensive backfield. And Mike Collins beat out Smith for the final spot on the offensive line.

"There wasn't any huge surprises," Billick said. "I feel good about this 53. These are 53 guys that belong in the NFL."

Young Ravens

The Ravens' 53-man roster announced yesterday is one of the youngest in recent NFL history. A look at the most rookies and first-year players on teams since 1995, as well as the average age of the roster:

Rookies/ Avg.

Team 1st-yr age

2002 Ravens 19 26

1999 Browns 15 27

1995 Jaguars 14 25

1995 Panthers 13 26

Note: The Houston Texans have not released their final cuts. Source: Ravens

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