Most of the Baltimore Ravens’ projected starters, and anybody dealing with even a minor injury, aren’t expected to play Saturday night when the team opens the preseason against the Philadelphia Eagles at M&T Bank Stadium.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson’s debut in a new offense will have to wait. So, too, will any grand takeaways about offensive coordinator Todd Monken’s play calling or tendencies, as the Ravens figure to adhere to a vanilla approach. Any excitement about watching inside linebackers Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen roam sideline to sideline will have to be bottled until probably Sept. 10, when the Ravens start the regular season against the Houston Texans.
For all the talk about Baltimore’s 23-game preseason winning streak, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh hasn’t played his starters much, if at all, in recent exhibition seasons. Harbaugh views it as an opportunity for the team’s decision-makers to get a longer look at younger players. He also gives veterans who are battling for roster spots, and in some cases, starting roles, the opportunity to make their case.
The Ravens have plenty of questions to mull before the roster needs to be cut down to 53 by Aug. 29. Saturday’s game against the defending NFC champions won’t provide any definitive answers, but it should get Baltimore closer to its goal.
Here’s a look at where the Ravens’ biggest roster questions remain:
What’s at stake: The No. 2 job
Players to watch: Tyler Huntley, Josh Johnson
Harbaugh said Thursday that the preseason games “will go a long way of deciding that pecking order” at quarterback and acknowledged that team officials are waiting for a candidate to separate himself from the pack. Huntley, the incumbent, has probably been a bit more consistent than Johnson during training camp. He’s also younger, extremely close to Jackson and has played in some big games for the Ravens the past two seasons. It also seems far more likely that Baltimore could get Johnson on the practice squad if he’s released at the end of the preseason. Yet, the way the coaching staff has divided the reps in camp suggests it views it as an open competition between the two. Anthony Brown, meanwhile, is a candidate for the practice squad. It’s not impossible for the Ravens to carry three quarterbacks into the regular season, but it seems likely that they’ll have more pressing roster priorities.
What’s at stake: A possible reserve role
Players to watch: Melvin Gordon, Keaton Mitchell
Assuming J.K. Dobbins decides soon that it’s time to practice, the Ravens probably have three locks with Justice Hill sliding in behind Dobbins and Gus Edwards. Hill has taken first-team reps for much of the summer and is also a core special-teamer. There is no guarantee that the Ravens keep four backs, and if they do, that will cost someone a spot at another position. However, they’ve had a ton of running back injuries in recent years and it would make sense to keep an extra ball carrier around for insurance. They certainly have two worthy candidates. Quietly, Gordon has had a nice camp and still appears to have some juice. Mitchell, an undrafted rookie who had a prolific college career at East Carolina, has also impressed. He’s quick and elusive. It’s hard to foresee the team having room for both.
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What’s at stake: One reserve spot
Players to watch: Tarik Black, James Proche II, Laquon Treadwell, Tylan Wallace
It’s widely assumed that barring injuries, the Ravens’ top five receivers (in no particular order) will be Odell Beckham Jr., Rashod Bateman, Zay Flowers, Nelson Agholor and Devin Duvernay. Harbaugh made it clear earlier in camp that there are no guarantees that the Ravens keep more than five. If they do, they have a bevy of candidates for the final spot, and just about all of them have made plays regularly in camp. Wallace may have the edge because he’s the best special-teamer in the group, and that typically matters when deciding the final few roster spots. Treadwell, though, has really come on in recent practices and shown big-play ability. Few Ravens work as hard as Proche. Black has been one of the biggest revelations in camp and seems to make one big play per practice. His size would diversify the receiving group.
What’s at stake: Starting left guard job
Players to watch: Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu, John Simpson
What was expected to be the biggest starting competition in camp has turned out to be a subdued two-man competition. Aumavae-Laulu, the rookie sixth-round pick from Oregon, got the starting reps for the first two weeks. More recently, Simpson, a former starter for the Las Vegas Raiders, has gotten them. No one else, not Ben Cleveland, not Patrick Mekari, not Daniel Faalele, has even entered the picture during camp. It’s a little late for that to change. This feels like an upside (Aumavae-Laulu) versus experience (Simpson) decision. The sense is this job will be decided over the next two weeks by how the two candidates play in the preseason. The Ravens would certainly feel comfortable going with Simpson, but there’s always a pull to start a young player who the team views as a potential piece going forward.
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What’s at stake: A few reserve spots
Players to watch: Malik Harrison, Del’Shawn Phillips, Josh Ross, Kristian Welch
The question here remains just how many inside linebackers the Ravens will keep behind Smith and Queen. Harrison seems like a safe bet because he logs a ton of special teams snaps and can also play on the outside. Rookie third-round pick Trenton Simpson needs to get healthy, but otherwise, his roster status is not in question. That makes four. That would likely leave one or two spots for Phillips, Ross and Welch. Phillips has made the biggest impact in camp and is a solid special-teamer. Ross probably has the most upside as a linebacker. Keeping six would feel like overkill. But the Ravens prove time and time again just how much they value special teams. Only Harrison played more special teams snaps than Welch last season.
What’s at stake: Several reserve spots
Players to watch: Jalyn Armour-Davis, Kyu Blu Kelly, Arthur Maulet, Kevon Seymour, Brandon Stephens, Ar’Darius Washington, Damarion Williams, Daryl Worley
So much at cornerback is up in the air simply because of the injury situation at the position. There’s a good chance Armour-Davis, Maulet and Williams won’t play Saturday, and Rock Ya-Sin, a projected starter currently sidelined with a knee injury, definitely won’t be on the field. Marlon Humphrey and Ya-Sin are roster locks. Whether it’s at safety or cornerback or just as a chess piece and special-teamer, Stephens will almost certainly be on the team, too. As second-year, fourth-round picks, Armour-Davis and Williams figure to be on the 53-man roster, but their health is going to have to cooperate. It would be uncharacteristic for the Ravens to cut a rookie fifth-rounder, so Kelly’s chances are probably pretty good, too. However, Seymour and Washington have played well this summer. They stand to benefit if other corners remain sidelined. It’s too early to dismiss undrafted rookies Corey Mayfield Jr., Jeremy Lucien and Jordan Swann, too. They’ve all had their moments in practice. There’s also the strong possibility that the Ravens add a cornerback in the coming days. For now, this position carries the most uncertainty on the roster.
(Photo of Kevon Seymour: Scott Taetsch / Getty Images)