When Anthony Allen dropped a pass from Tyrod Taylor in the end zone late in the fourth quarter of the Ravens' preseason game against the Washington Redskins, the rookie running back was worried that he had also dropped an opportunity to cement a spot on the team.
But Allen's misery was cut short Thursday night by offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and coach John Harbaugh.
"It would've shown that I can make the big catch in a game instead of just out here in practice," the seventh-round pick said Monday. "But after I dropped it, Cam came over to me and Coach Harbaugh came up to me, and they told me: 'Hey, we believe in you. We know you're going to make that catch. Don't [be] hard on yourself.' So I put it behind me, and I caught a few extra balls after practice."
Still, Allen is fully aware that he cannot afford many more mistakes like that. In fact, borrowing the team's slogan, Allen acknowledged that Thursday night's preseason finale at the Atlanta Falcons looms large.
"It's a what's-important-now-type world," he said. "My latest tape is my greatest tape. So that's what I'm going to try to do, just go out on Thursday and make it my best one yet."
The fate of Allen and dozens of his teammates rests with the coaching staff, which will meticulously evaluate their performances in the preseason.
After trimming the roster to 80 players Tuesday, the organization will have to make moves by Saturday afternoon to get down to the NFL's 53-man limit.
Harbaugh said Thursday night's game will be players' best chance to turn heads and adjust opinions.
"Great opportunity for the young guys, no doubt about it," he said after Tuesday's practice at the team's training facility in Owings Mills. "They'll be playing, obviously, the majority of the game. This is their chance to get some tape and get some live NFL action to prove to us and the rest of the league what they can do."
Rookie cornerback Chykie Brown is one such player who figures to get considerable playing time against the Falcons. The first of the club's two picks in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, Brown was lauded at Texas for his tackling ability and speed, but he has had few opportunities to showcase those skills in a logjam at cornerback.
"This is a very important game," he said. "It's the last chance we've got to show not only the team we're on right now, but also the other 31 teams in the NFL. It's like a job interview for us. Everything that we've been working on in training camp, you've got to carry on to the field. So I'm waiting for that challenge."
Rookies aren't the only ones seeking to fortify their spots on the team. Veterans like defensive tackle Lamar Divens, wide receiver James Hardy and running back Jalen Parmele could use solid outings Thursday night to make an impression on coaches.
Inside linebacker Jason Phillips made the 53-man roster last season, playing in nine games. That means Phillips is no longer eligible for a practice squad, so he must either make the Ravens' roster or find employment elsewhere.
Phillips, who made six tackles and forced a fumble on special teams last season, said he has never leaned on last year's experience as a guarantee toward his future.
"With the way our [linebackers] are and how deep we are, you can't be comfortable at all," he said. "Every one of them can play, and they can only keep so many. So all I can do is come out here every day and do my best, and when I get into the games, make the plays when they're given to me. If I think I've made it, I'm going to get cut. If I think I'm going to get cut, then I'm definitely cut. So I've got to keep doing the same thing every day and hope it works out."
Phillips' approach is one mirrored by many of his teammates. That mindset could go a long way in determining their stay with the Ravens.
"Like I told them, I said, 'You've got to go out there and every opportunity, every snap that you have, you have to take advantage of it. Whether it's 10 snaps or 40 snaps, you've got to go play really, really well,'" defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. "They're not only trying to make this team, they're trying to make 31 other teams. Everyone in the league is going to watch this tape. So they've got to go out. They've got to perform. They've got to be productive. They've got to play well. Just go out and execute the calls, have fun, and see what happens."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times