Turk strikes this weekend for several Ravens

OWINGS MILLS - The grim reaper of football carries a formidable scythe that figuratively sheds blood every summer.

Dark imagery and gallow's humor accompany the anxiety of the situation along with the unenviable nature of a job often likened to being an angel of death.

The Turk is the Baltimore Ravens' most common nickname for the man who informs players that their services are no longer required. Hulking football players live in mortal fear of having the Turk knock on their door and deliver the infamous mantra: "Coach wants to see you, and bring your playbook."

This weekend marks NFL teams' final major reduction of the roster.

For the past few years, Ravens scout Joe Douglas has been avoided like the plague despite his friendly nature and quiet voice. Douglas has traditionally been the scouting department representative who ushers players toward Ravens coach Brian Billick's office for bad news.

Although he was promoted and is passing on his duties to new player personnel assistants Daniel Jeremiah and Jeremiah Washburn, Douglas can't quite escape the stigma of being the Turk. "People bust my chops about it all the time," Douglas said. "Some guys won't talk to me or walk in the opposite direction when they see me coming even when they have nothing to worry about. Nobody wants to do this, but it's a job that has to be done."

The former University of Richmond offensive tackle isn't exactly anonymous, gaining notoriety from "Hard Knocks," the HBO miniseries that chronicled the Ravens' training camp after winning the Super Bowl title. Cameras followed Douglas circulating through the team hotel as his arrival at a player's door step signaled an imminent exit from Westminster. Douglas' chief weapons are a clipboard, a determination to carry out his task, common sense and a touch of compassion.

"You want to handle it with a certain amount of class," Douglas said. "You don't want to be a jerk about it. You don't want to be too much of a tough guy or too soft, either. It's not an easy job."

Disappointment is the overriding reaction from players. Rarely, is Douglas greeted with angry complaints. The majority are realistic enough to anticipate their dismissal.

"I really didn't want to do it my first time," Douglas said. "Every scenario goes through your mind. What am I going to do if this guy flips out?"

These final cuts tend to be the most difficult because they are familiar faces. Plus, getting this close to wearing a uniform in an actual NFL game requires a high degree of talent along with years of devotion to the pigskin. When the Turk strikes, though, strength and speed no longer matter. This is football's version of a condemned man walking toward death row.

It's the dream-killing season. How will Washburn and Jeremiah do? "They'll be fine," Douglas said. "The first one is always the toughest, but you never really get totally used to it. It's a pretty solemn deal."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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