Competitions add spice to Ravens' preseason finale

The tension mounts as the Baltimore Ravens approach their final decisions on who will be included and excluded from this football team.

OWINGS MILLS - While the vast majority of the roster is set entering Thursday night's preseason finale against the New York Giants at M&T Bank Stadium, there are some difficult choices looming as roughly a dozen players vie for five to six spots.

The situation should add some spice to a game otherwise devoid of much in the way of drama other than the Ravens' quarterback competition. "That last half of the game gets to be an all-out war," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We're looking for someone to distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack."

A lot of the competitions are being waged along the defensive and offensive lines. Defensive end Nate Bolling has made a strong case as he attempts to push out veterans Joe Salave'a and Riddick Parker. Bolling leads the league with five sacks and ranks third on the defense with 10 tackles. "This is my last chance to show what I can do," Bolling said. "I'm a football player. not a coach or a general manager, so I can't decide what will happen. Personally, I think I'm playing good football." Parker collected 29 tackles last year for Baltimore, causing two fumbles with a sack. "Whether I'm on the team or not is going to come down to this last week," Parker said. "I'm going to leave it all on the field and let the chips fall where they may."

ON THE DEFENSE: It was an atypical evening for the Ravens' defense. Ranked first in overall preseason defense before a 24-3 loss to the Washington Redskins on Saturday night, the Ravens' starters allowed 17 points by halftime and 149 yards. The starters had given up only one touchdown in the prior two games.

The Redskins utilized several screen passes and a flea-flicker for a touchdown to keep the aggressive Ravens at bay. Baltimore now ranks fifth in the league.

"We really didn't play as bad as it looked," cornerback Chris McAlister said. "We're focused and ready to play this week like we know we can play. We definitely have the manpower to go into the regular season."

However, this might not be much of a test for Baltimore since the Giants won't play quarterback Kerry Collins or tight end Jeremy Shockey. Plus, running back Tiki Barber is scheduled for just a few snaps. "We want to redeem ourselves," safety Gary Baxter said. "That was kind of embarrassing last week. We have to bounce back up."

MEDICAL UPDATE: Wide receiver Frank Sanders (toes), cornerback Tom Knight (hamstring), running back Musa Smith (knee), cornerback Alvin Porter (groin) won't play. "Alvin had a pretty nasty pull and it might take another week or so," trainer Bill Tessendorf said.

Punter Dave Zastudil (hamstring) might make his preseason debut, Billick said. "Dave tells me he feels great, so it's the coaches' decision," Tessendorf said.

Center Mike Flynn, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery the first week of camp, said he expects to play the first couple of series. Billick indicated that tight end John Jones, out last week with a concussion and sprained neck, is set to return.

Randy Hymes said he will play despite a sore foot. "It's stiff, but I can go," Hymes said. "I'm not going to cheat myself."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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