For Ravens' players on bubble, preseason finale is last chance

In game against Giants, playing time tonight offers chance to impress

Pro Football

September 02, 2004|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - As the Ravens prepare to say goodbye to the preseason, some familiar faces on the team may be making their respective curtain calls as well.

Ron Johnson, Lamont Brightful and Javin Hunter have been assured roster spots this time the past couple of years but find themselves, along with Tony Pashos and Aubrayo Franklin, former draft picks on the bubble fighting for, at most, two spots.

Rookie receiver Clarence Moore, this year's sixth-round pick, is also battling for one of those spaces and will likely see significant playing time in tonight's finale at Giants Stadium against the New York Giants.

Since the starters are not expected to make it out of the first quarter, the outcome of the game will largely depend on the bubble players, all of whom are looking to make a lasting statement as to why they should be on the team.

The game, though, is just part of the process.

"It's got to be cumulative," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "But it certainly can help their fortunes."

Hunter will not get the opportunity to make his case. The receiver-turned-cornerback will sit out with a groin injury he sustained in the second half of last week's game against the Detroit Lions.

With only three games as a defensive player, Hunter has to hope the Ravens will devote 10 spots to the secondary, banking on his future development into a solid defender.

If the Ravens choose to go in another direction, Hunter's stint would have been marred with a season-ending Achilles' tendon tear last year and a four-game suspension for taking a banned substance after becoming a starter at receiver the year before.

"Once I get all the techniques down at DB, then it's going to be tough to deal with me," Hunter said. "But I can't do it if I'm not playing."

Johnson, who was a fourth-round pick in the 2002 draft that also produced Hunter and Brightful, may be on the outside looking in as well.

Coaches seem more enamored with Moore's size and potential. The Ravens could look to put Moore on the practice squad, but team officials are fearful of losing him to another team if he is cut. Team officials are considering doing the same to rookie quarterback Josh Harris, which would open up two roster spots, but are even more wary of exposing Harris to the rest of the league than Moore.

Moore does not have any catches during games, but he has been a frequent target during practice.

Johnson, meanwhile, has two catches for 14 yards in games, a drop from some of the heroics of previous preseasons.

"You're never really secure," said Johnson, who may have an advantage over the others in special teams. "Anything can happen, but I'm definitely confident in my ability. I know what I need to do, and I'll do what I know I can do."

A couple of fifth-round picks from the 2003 draft, Franklin, a defensive tackle, and Pashos, an offensive tackle, had high hopes heading into training camp after successful stints in NFL Europe.

But Franklin has recorded five tackles in games, while Pashos has had his troubles with hard-charging defensive ends. Pashos, though, said he planned to sleep like a baby despite his uncertain position.

As for Brightful, the Ravens primary return specialist the past two seasons, his fate may have been sealed when B.J. Sams took the first punt he touched 89 yards against the Lions (the touchdown was nullified because of a running-into-the-kicker penalty).

Sams showed the Ravens a sure-handed, confident alternative, and unless Brightful exceeds Sams with a couple of touchdowns tonight, his tenure could be over.

"It's always an unfortunate part of the process," Billick said. "We'll take those steps when necessary. Anytime you can upgrade your team, particularly by when you have to sever a relationship with someone that's been a functioning member of your team, it's unfortunate but a good thing."

Things to watch

Position: Receiver. With Travis Taylor and Devard Darling out with injuries, Clarence Moore and Ron Johnson will have nearly an entire game to show what they can do. Randy Hymes will start alongside Kevin Johnson, but will likely not play more than a couple of series.

Veteran: Ethan Brooks. The reserve tackle will start in place of Orlando Brown, who did not make the trip. With Brown's situation in his personal life uncertain, Brooks needs to use this game to prepare himself to play against the Cleveland Browns if Brown is not back.

Rookie: Lance Frazier. Frazier may not have a space on the 53-man roster, but he has all but assured himself a spot on the practice squad with a good training camp.

On the bubble: Aubrayo Franklin. The former fifth-round pick did all the right things this offseason - dominating NFL Europe, losing weight but not strength. Yet he may be the odd-man out on a deep defensive line that now includes second-round pick Dwan Edwards.

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