Fighting For a Spot

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For most casual football fans, the fourth game of the NFL preseason leaves a lot to be desired.

But to diehards, it is one of the most intriguing contests of the year. And that goes for coaches and players around the league, as well.

With rosters dwindling in size – teams had to cut from 80 players to 75 on Tuesday, and then must trim down to 53 men on Sept. 5 – the preseason finale is the time when some of the lesser-known prospects can earn a job.

Consider it their final interview, and a successful showing means the difference between landing the 53rd spot and landing on the street.

"When you talk about the last three, four, five spots, six spots - whatever those spots are, how many are you going to keep at a position - it depends on how guys play," said head coach John Harbaugh. "So, you look at that next wide receiver vs. that next defensive back vs. that next linebacker or that next running back, and you take the best player for your team at this time."

Ravens defensive back Derrick Martin is one of those players that may have worked himself off the bubble.

The former sixth-round draft pick went into training camp mired in a deep position group. Somewhat of a longshot to make the team after switching from cornerback to safety, Martin has made a solid case to keep him with consistent play.

Martin picked off Washington Redskins quarterback Colt Brennan in the preseason opener. He logged three tackles and a pass deflection the following week against the New York Jets.

And in Monday's practice, Martin made an interception while covering wideout Derrick Mason in the end zone.

"The thing about Derrick Martin that's interesting is, he's always the same," Harbaugh noted. "Derrick Martin comes out and plays well in every single practice. Then he lines up in a game and plays well in every single game. He plays extremely fast. He's made the transition from corner to safety, so he can play both.

"He's a guy that's in the mix to make our roster, and he's earned that. He's earned it by the way he's played. It's going to be interesting to see how it shakes out, but I think Derrick Martin has played his way, pretty potentially, onto this football team."

Like all younger players trying to hold on, special teams performance is key.

Martin, who notched 17 special teams stops in 2007 before landing on Injured Reserve in 2008 with a shoulder injury, has played multiple roles on special teams.

Linebacker Jameel McClain made the team last year as an undrafted rookie free agent largely because of his special teams potential.

On Thursday, receiver Jayson Foster is looking forward to returning kicks in live action and showcase his speed, something he hasn't been able to do so far this preseason.

"I just want to do whatever I can to help the team, and if that's returning kicks, I'm out there," Foster said. "This game is big, because we're getting time on the field. It's going to be fun."

Harbaugh called special teams a "tipping point" that can swing a player's fortunes either way, but it also underscores the long-uttered mantra of "the more you can do…"

Martin has the ability to contribute in several ways, and he's banking on that to bolster his chances.

"Hopefully, they're seeing what I'm doing out there," Martin said. "I can play a couple of positions, so it's up to them as far as what they want to do. I'm used to this. I just practice hard and play well in games. Sometimes, other guys don't step up to that challenge. That's gone on for three or four years. Hopefully, they see that I'm working."

Martin and the other Ravens near the bottom of the depth chart will have ample opportunities to draw eyeballs their way.

Many of those watching will be established veterans, who were in a similar position when they started out.

When asked about the preseason finale, Mason, who is in the midst of his 13th season, remembered breaking into the league as a returner and part-time receiver.

"Go out there and have fun," Mason said. "Don't let anybody steal your joy. This is not the end all, be all. There are 31 other teams out there, but make sure whatever you put on film, it's something good.

"Everybody can't make the Baltimore Ravens, but there are 31 other teams out there that they could get a spot on. This is an audition – whether it be for this team or another team. But make sure you put your best foot forward going out there."

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