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Life On The Bubble


The night before Thursday night's final preseason game, Ravens wide receiver Kamar Aiken will turn on some cartoons in his hotel room, then call his family.

He likes the cartoons because they take him back to childhood, when his brain was totally free of clutter. He instructs his family members to not talk about football. Dish about their problems, talk about their day at work. Just no pigskin.

He'll do anything to take his mind off football.

Aiken has been on the bubble before. This will be his fourth year in that position. He's not the only one hoping his bubble floats instead of pops.

The Ravens need to trim their roster from 75 players to 53 by Saturday at 4 p.m. About a third of the team sees Thursday night's game in New Orleans as their final chance to make an impression, their make-or-break moment.

So what's it like being on that bubble? For Aiken, and probably many others, it's a search for mental clarity.

"As long as you keep that mindset and don't get caught up in it being the fourth game, cuts being Saturday, I think you'll be fine," Aiken said.

"That's the toughest thing is just keeping that mindset."

It must be difficult. Players grow up with football taking over their lives. If they're like Aiken, they fight and claw for any way to be and stay in the league.

Here's Aiken's resume, full of hirings and firings:

7/28/11 – Signs with Buffalo Bills as undrafted free agent out of Central Florida
9/3/11 – Released by the Bills
9/4/11 – Signed to the Bills' practice squad
11/22/11 – Elevated to Bills' 53-man roster (plays two games)
8/31/12 – Released by Bills
9/2/12 – Signed to Bills' practice squad
10/3/12 – Released by Bills
10/9/12 – Signed to Chicago Bears' practice squad
11/6/12 – Released by Bears
11/19/12 – Signed to New England Patriots' practice squad
12/22/12 – Elevated to Patriots' 53-man roster (plays one game)
12/24/12 – Released by Patriots
12/26/12 – Signed to Patriots' practice squad
12/29/12 – Elevated to Patriots' 53-man roster
8/26/13 – Released by Patriots
10/30/13 – Signed to Baltimore Ravens' practice squad

It doesn't matter how long Aiken's resume is. He's a believer in destiny.

"What's for you is for you, no matter what. Nobody can take that from you," Aiken said.

Aiken is part of a cluster full of talented wide receivers at perhaps the Ravens' deepest position.

The fourth preseason game is all about life on the bubble. A few final roster spots will be up for grabs, and here are some players to watch Thursday against the Saints:

There are four virtual locks* *in Torrey Smith, Steve Smith Sr., Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown, but probably just two spots open. Aiken, Deonte Thompson, Michael Campanaro and rookies Jeremy Butler and Jace Davis are competing for those last spots.

The Ravens traded a sixth-round pick next year to move back into the draft and get Campanaro. They invested in him, and on Tuesday, Harbaugh said Campanaro "gets open all the time." He seems to have a very good chance of making the 53-man roster.

Then there's Thompson, who the Ravens had high hopes for last year but sustained an injury that set him back. Thompson got into some off-the-field trouble this offseason, and showed some inconsistency in practices. But he's scored two touchdowns this preseason, one on a kick return and another as a receiver.

Aiken had a solid game in the first week of the preseason, catching four passes for 46 yards. But he hasn't hauled in a pass in either of the last two preseason contests. He can't let that get to him, however.

"Everyone is going to get their different opportunities," he said. "Some may get the ball 10 times, some may not get any* *at all. You just have to make the best of the plays you get, and at the end of the day leave it up to the coaches to make that decision.

"I practice with them every day, so they have a pretty good scoop of how you are as a player. You leave it in their hands and hope they make the best decision in your favor."

For the first time in his career, Aiken says he has literally attacked his job on a day-to-day basis, one play at a time. Looking ahead has gotten him in trouble before, he says.

This is Aiken's last chance to make a 53-man roster. Even though the NFL and NFL Players Association have agreed to expand practice squad rosters, the new requirements don't allow Aiken another year of eligibility.

Still, Aiken doesn't know what he'll do if he doesn't make the Ravens' cut. He hasn't thought that far ahead.

Thursday is the all-important day. While the fourth preseason game is the one of least interest to fans, as the starters hardly ever play, it's of utmost importance to players like Aiken.

"It's nerve-wracking," he said.

"But at the same time, you've got to keep a clear mind and take it play by play and not try to do too much. For the most part, people come into that game and try to make the big play every time. Just do your job and eventually it will happen."

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