Ravens rest starters, hold mass audition

ATLANTA -- Instead of conducting a traditional dress rehearsal Friday night, the Baltimore Ravens orchestrated an open audition. It was a mad scramble for a handful of remaining roster spots as the defending AFC North champions used its preseason finale against the Atlanta Falcons purely as an evaluation period one week removed from a weather-abbreviated loss to the Washington Redskins.

With 13 of 22 starters not playing at the Georgia Dome, including middle linebacker Ray Lewis and quarterback Steve McNair, the Ravens' mixture of starters and reserves absorbed a 13-10 loss as they concluded the preseason in front of a sparse crowd.

The Ravens have to cut 20 players by today's NFL deadline to get down to the league limit of 53 players with roughly seven players vying for four spots.

"We have a lot of work to do looking at this tape," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "That will help us make a lot of tough decisions that we are going to have to make. We will have to get through that as quick as we can, but you have to go through that process with precision. Then, we can move onto our next game."

In the Ravens' top play of the night, wide receiver Demetrius Williams jab-stepped inside before smoothly cutting outside and bursting up the sideline for a 59-yard touchdown caught in stride.

Benefiting heavily from backup quarterback Kyle Boller's adept pump-fake and sound protection, Williams did the rest by creating plenty of separation with his deceptive speed. Ten seconds later, the one-play drive was over and the Ravens owned a 7-0 first-quarter lead.

"It was pretty much a take-off route," said Williams, who caught two passes for 78 yards as he scored his first touchdown of the preseason. "Kyle read it and I saw it open, too. It worked out well. He threw the ball right where it needed to be, and I went to get it."

In a rare start with Billick resting McNair prior to the Sept. 10 season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, Boller completed 9 of 15 passes for 144 yards in the first half. He registered a 114.3 quarterback rating and was only sacked once.

"I was able to get Demetrius the ball downfield a couple times and I felt like I got some rhythm," Boller said. "We stopped ourselves a little bit, but, for the most part, it felt pretty good. They were playing pretty vanilla. We were trying to take advantage of the holes in the defense and get the ball down the field."

In a rare duel of former Baltimore starting quarterbacks, Chris Redman left his own imprint on the game. He tied the score by engineering a 10-play, 74-yard drive, capping the march by dumping the football off to running back Jerious Norwood for a 15-yard touchdown pass.

Redman, who started six games for Baltimore in 2002 before giving way to Jeff Blake due to injuries, completed 13 of 23 passes for 119 yards and no interceptions.

"Chris Redman has run that offense since he was in college, and he gave our young players a good test," Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "I think they did okay, but we'll see more when we take a look at the tape tomorrow before [general manager Ozzie Newsome] makes the cuts.

"We'll have some interesting conversations. There are some tough decisions to be made."

Rookie linebacker Edgar Jones, who's competing with veteran Dennis Haley for one of the final roster spots, was unable to get to Redman in time to prevent the score. Jones and Prescott Burgess both missed a few tackles.

"I went out there and laid it all on the line," Jones said. "I'm not going to sit around and pull my hair out of my head, because whatever is going to happen is going to happen. Hopefully, I made a good impression so they will keep me around."

In the battle for the fourth wide receiver spot, Devard Darling started ahead of Clarence Moore. However, Darling, a third-round draft pick who hasn't caught a pass in an actual NFL game in two seasons, hurt his cause with a costly drop and generally poor concentration.

Moore , meanwhile, notched an acrobatic 33-yard reception.

"I think it's going to be a long day for myself," Moore said. "I have no predictions on what's going to happen. I just have to wait and see what they're going to do."

During the second half, it was Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith's chance to try to persuade the organization that it should keep him on the active roster as the third quarterback rather than be relegated to the practice squad if he clears waivers.

The former Ohio State star was clearly nervous initially. He badly overthrew Matt Willis on his first throw and was sacked on his first drive, too.

Yet, Smith rallied impressively during his second crack against the Falcons' defense. He moved around smoothly in the pocket, connecting with Romby Bryant twice for 11 and 17 yards and Willis for 12 more.

The drive stalled at the Falcons' 35-yard line when Grady Jackson slammed Smith for a nine-yard sack. Smith completed 11 of 18 passes for 86 yards and an interception, and was sacked four times.

As Smith struggled, Rhys Lloyd appears to be closing in on a job as the kickoff specialist. He made another convincing argument to stay on the team.

The Dover , England native nailed a 55-yard field goal that would have easily been good from beyond 60 yards to briefly stake Baltimore to a 10-7 lead.

"Looking at the last couple of weeks, I think I've done a good job," said Lloyd, who reported on the final day of training camp due to work visa issues. "I caught that thing pretty sweet."

Added Billick: "He has a powerful leg. He's fresh. I hate him missing camp the way that he did, but he clearly has a good leg."

Atlanta tied the score on a 33-yard field goal by Matt Prater, finishing off a 14-play, 79-yard drive. The key play was a 39-yard Casey Bramlet pass down to the Ravens' 14-yard line.

Later, Prater connected on another go-ahead field goal from 45 yards out.

Baltimore tried to rally, but rookie tight end Marcus Freeman fumbled the ball away on the ensuing drive.

On 4th-and-25 after a false start by Mike Kracalik, Smith's desperation heave was intercepted by Chris Houston in the final minute.

In one of the more telling lineup wrinkles unveiled, Baltimore decided to start right tackle Adam Terry at his natural left tackle position ahead of rookie Jared Gaither.

With Jonathan Ogden's status up in the air for the Ravens' season opener Sept. 10 against the Cincinnati Bengals, starting Terry is a definite contingency plan. Baltimore started rookie tackle Marshal Yanda in Terry's usual spot.

"It was like riding a bike," Terry said. "It felt pretty good. Jason Brown and I have some chemistry. For me, it's easier to go from right to left because that's what I've played before."

Ogden was activated from the physically unable to perform list last week, but a lingering turf toe injury has left him a question mark for the opening game.

"We'll have to see what J.O's situation is," Billick said. "He progressed fairly well during the week, but we have to see what next week brings."

Billick was definitely encouraged by how the Ravens cut down on penalties after being flagged a total of 20 times over the previous two weeks. Baltimore was penalized just three times Friday despite a reshuffled offensive line.

"The line was in constant rotation," Billick said. "That's not easy and I think they held up pretty well as a group. I was pleased with a number of possessions and the communication."

Meanwhile, new franchise running back Willis McGahee was one of the few regulars who wasn't granted the night off.

The former Pro Bowl runner did little to allay concerns about his lackluster preseason, rushing for just 12 yards on four carries.

"I was supposed to play a series or two, but I chose to go a little longer," McGahee said. "I'm ready to play some Monday night football. It's for real now.

"That's what it's all about. I'm ready to rock, man. It's time to get down and dirty."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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