In the Baltimore Ravens 21-7 victory last night over the Atlanta Falcons in the final pre-season game, a few players might have earned themselves roster spots by virtue of their fine play. At the same time, a few others may have ensured themselves that they will be turning in their playbooks when rosters must be cut down to 53 players by Saturday.
Linebackers Jason Phillips and rookie Josh Bynes had excellent games last night and both improved their chances with their fine play. Phillips had an interception and fumble recovery, both of which led to points by the offense. Bynes was a terror in the Falcons backfield, with two sacks.
Cornerback Chykie Brown had probably already secured a roster spot but certainly helped himself with a sweet 65-yard interception return for a touchdown. First round draft pick Jimmy Smith's roster spot was never in question, but he looked solid and could be in line to start when the season opens in ten days.
Defensive end Pernell McPhee was consistently involved in plays tonight as well as the entire exhibition season and even head coach John Harbaugh admitted that he has already made the team.
Offensively, the wide receiver position is still wide open behind Anquan Boldin, Lee Evans and Torrey Smith. David Reed was thought to be ahead of the others, but a below average game with a couple of dropped passes could hurt his chances. Rookie LaQuan Williams continued to impress, both on offense as well as punt returns. James Hardy caught his first pass of the pre-season but his lingering injury might have cost him a shot to prove he belongs. Same thing goes for veteran WR Marcus Smith, who had been a Special Teams ace but the new kickoff rule has lessened the need for those skills and he may be a victim of the result.
Some of these guys will make the team while others will not. The team has some tough decisions and will have to release guys they would prefer to keep. However, because of the number of veterans on this team and the quality of the roster from top to bottom, decisions will have to be made between guys who would probably make other team's rosters and in fact, these players could be scooped up by those teams once the Ravens cut them.
Hopefully, some of these guys will be re-signed to the Ravens Practice Squad and a couple might be put on the team's Injured Reserve List, ending their 2011 season but allowing the team to retain their exclusive rights to the player and from the player's point of view, they get their entire 2011 NFL salary. Either way, we will know all the moves by this Saturday and then the team will collectively focus on the main task at hand, beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in ten days.