Smith avoids Ravens' chopping block

OWINGS MILLS -- Troy Smith can add another title to his Heisman Trophy resume as the rookie quarterback is now a survivor of the Baltimore Ravens' final major roster cutdown. Twenty of his former teammates weren't so fortunate as the Ravens pared their numbers down to the league limit of 53 players.

Besides Smith, the players on the bubble who avoided the chopping block were kicker Rhys Lloyd, receiver Devard Darling, linebackers Dennis Haley and Edgar Jones and safety Jamaine Winborne. Smith, who beat out Drew Olson last week for the third quarterback job behind starter Steve McNair and backup Kyle Boller, vowed to improve his shortcomings following a rough outing during Friday night's 13-10 loss to the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome where he was sacked four times and intercepted once.

"For the most part with what I've had to deal with, I can do nothing but try to get better," said Smith, who signed a three-year contract in July that included a $105,000 signing bonus. "As a quarterback, I need to continue to study. I've got to continue to be the first one there and the last one to leave, and I will continue to do that."

The most notable cuts were a handful of familiar names, including wide receiver Clarence Moore, offensive guard Brian Rimpf, cornerback Evan Oglesby and running back Cory Ross.

Sixteen other players were released, including: defensive tackle Anthony Bryant, receiver Romby Bryant, defensive tackle Atiyyah Ellison, linebacker Jamar Enzor (injury waived), offensive tackle Mike Kracalik, defensive tackle Keyonta Marshall, guard Ikechuku Ndukwe, guard Chris Pino, linebacker Ryan Riddle, defensive end Bill Swancutt, tight end Kendrick Ballantyne, tight end Marcus Freeman, cornerback Willie Gaston, receiver Damien Linson, linebacker Joe Martin and receiver Matt Willis. In Moore's case, the 6-foot-6, 220-pound former sixth-round pick was unable to expand his game beyond being a specialist in the fade route where he excelled and caught a team-high four touchdowns as a rookie.

"I think it's going to be a long day for myself," said Moore after catching a 33-yard pass against Atlanta.

The Ravens cut Rimpf, a seventh-round pick in 2004 who started seven games in 2005 but missed all of last season on injured reserve with a pulled hamstring. He appeared to be affected by Baltimore keeping nine linebackers and the ability of several linemen, including Jason Brown, Chris Chester, Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda, to play offensive guard.

Although Ross led Baltimore in rushing during the preseason with 94 yards, he was held back by strong depth behind starter Willis McGahee with backups Mike Anderson and Musa Smith along with his lack of size at 5-foot-6, 201 pounds. The Ravens decided they didn't need four running backs.

"This is one of the toughest cutdowns we've ever done as a franchise," general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement. "Several players we released are going to be playing in the NFL this season.

"Overall, this is one of the deepest, most versatile rosters we've assembled in the last four or five years, and that includes the two kickers."

Lloyd cemented his status as a kickoff specialist and Matt Stover understudy by booting a 55-yard field goal that could have been good from 65 yards.

The Dover, England native reported on the final day of training camp due to work visa issues, but made the team by converting all three of his field goal attempts and kicking eight of nine kickoffs into the end zone this month.

"Looking at the last couple of weeks, I think I've done a good job," Lloyd said. "I caught that thing pretty sweet."

Added Ravens coach Brian Billick: "He's clearly got the leg you're looking for."

Darling, a former third-round pick who dropped a pass against Atlanta and hasn't caught a pass in a regular-season game since 2004, made the team largely because he was more consistent than Moore and had more special-teams potential.

Entering the final year of his contract, Darling is due to make $850,000.

Haley, a special-teams force who performed capably at middle linebacker last season against the Tennessee Titans, was considered a vital special-teams cog. Jones, a 6-3, 263-pound undrafted converted defensive end from Southeast Missouri, caught coaches' attention with his speed, hustle and pass-rushing skills.

"I went out there and laid it all on the line," Jones said after starting against Atlanta. "I did everything I could to make the coaches want to keep me around."

Keeping Winborne as a fourth safety was something of a surprise because Oglesby was listed as the second cornerback for most of the summer and appeared in every game last season, but was eventually overtaken by cornerbacks David Pittman and Derrick Martin.

Winborne, who was ineligible for another year on the practice squad, was beaten for a 39-yard pass in Atlanta that set up a field goal.

The Ravens are gambling a bit on the continued health of their defensive line, only retaining five on the active roster, including Kelly Gregg, Trevor Pryce, Haloti Ngata, Dwan Edwards and Justin Bannan. That decision cost Ellison, who was listed as a backup to Gregg on the depth chart.

"If they cut me, I'll just keep working out, stay by the phone and hope that another door will open," said Ellison, who has now been cut five times in the past two years.

Smith impressed the team with his attitude, work ethic and arm strength while struggling with his accuracy and decision-making. He completed 11 of 18 passes for 86 yards against Atlanta, finishing the preseason 18 of 37 for 180 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and a 51.6 quarterback rating.

"It seems like just yesterday that I was in the same position," backup quarterback Kyle Boller said. "It's a learning process, it's a learning curve. It's not easy. He's a heck of a player. He's going to be just fine."

NOTE: Under league rules, the Ravens are allowed to begin forming an eight-man practice squad as soon as noon today. Traditionally, they tend to sign players who were with them during training camp.

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

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