Ravens-Buccaneers preseason primer: Five players to watch

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The record preseason win streak is no more and most roster decisions will have already been made by Saturday night, leaving little drama as the Ravens play their preseason finale at Tampa Bay.

That’s not to say the outlook of a player or two can’t change, of course, and countless youngsters and veterans on the bubble still have plenty to gain — even if it’s simply improving their odds of catching on with one of the other 31 team after final cuts are made by Tuesday.

“Sometimes it doesn’t mean a lot because you pretty much know where you’re at [with the roster]. Other times, you know, it can put somebody over the top,” said head coach John Harbaugh about the final preseason game. “I don’t think it’s ever really going to hurt anybody. Anybody that’s ever put themselves in the position to make the team now, I don’t see anything they did in the game that they would jeopardize him at all. But I think it could take somebody to the next level possibly if you see something you’ve been looking for.”

As was the case in the first two preseason games, few key players are expected to suit up against the Buccaneers even after Harbaugh said quarterback Lamar Jackson wants to play. In reality, the 26-year-old superstar sounded unconcerned last week when asked about not playing in the preseason, noting that he didn’t play in any games last August either.

There was some question about whether the coaching staff wanted to see veteran cornerback Ronald Darby in live-game action since he is less than 11 months removed from ACL reconstruction surgery and expected to help fill the early-season void left behind by the injured Marlon Humphrey, but Harbaugh didn’t make it sound like that would actually happen.

“Yes, I want to. I’d love to. I’d love to see everybody in a game situation to close out the preseason,” Harbaugh said. “What have I seen from Darby? Ronald has done well. He looks like a starting corner. He’s been there. He’s very talented. He knows how to play. He’s a great addition to our team.”

Fellow veteran newcomer Jadeveon Clowney also appears unlikely to play.

This marks just the second time the Ravens and Tampa Bay will play in the preseason with Baltimore winning the only other summer meeting at Raymond James Stadium in 2013. Of course, these teams played in the regular season last year with the Ravens prevailing over Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in a 27-22 road victory.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to put out an injury report like they do in the regular season, but I’ve offered my best guess of what one would look like if it were to be released ahead of Saturday’s game.

Most of the players estimated to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will remain in question. Of course, this list does not include the many established players who will be held out due to the coaching staff’s decision.

Below is the unofficial injury report:

OUT: QB Tyler Huntley (hamstring), OLB Tyus Bowser (knee), CB Marlon Humphrey (foot), CB Damarion Williams (ankle), WR Shemar Bridges (knee), LS Nick Moore (Achilles tendon), G Andrew Vorhees (knee)
DOUBTFUL: TE Mark Andrews
QUESTIONABLE: CB Rock Ya-Sin (knee), WR Rashod Bateman (foot), S Geno Stone (ankle), CB Arthur Maulet (hamstring), CB Jalyn Armour-Davis, OLB Malik Hamm, WR Sean Ryan 

Five players to watch Saturday night

G Ben Cleveland

Widely regarded as the favorite to replace Ben Powers as the starting left guard entering the spring, Cleveland never really appeared to be in the competition for that job at any point during spring and summer practices open to media, which had to be a disappointment for an organization that expressed great excitement upon selecting him in the third round of the 2021 draft. The 6-foot-6, 370-pound University of Georgia product hasn’t performed poorly working at right guard or right tackle this summer, but general manager Eric DeCosta may see more value in finding another team that covets Cleveland in a trade than waiting another year to see if he finally puts it all together.

CB Jalyn Armour-Davis

The Ravens view the former Alabama product as one of their more talented cornerbacks, but he has yet to play in a preseason game in his career and logged only 50 defensive snaps as a rookie largely because of nagging injuries, which was also a problem in college that resulted in him falling to the fourth round of last year’s draft. The 6-foot-1, 197-pound defensive back practiced fully this week and should be in line for a look against Tampa Bay as coaches try to determine where he fits in a murky cornerback picture two weeks before the season opener. Armour-Davis has missed much development time, but playing and getting through Saturday’s game healthy would be a positive step.

C Sam Mustipher

The backup center role is never a major talking point, but the Ravens had to replace Trystan Colon this offseason and signed Mustipher, an Owings Mills native who started 40 games for Chicago over the last three seasons. Though not highly regarded by the end of his time with the Bears, Mustipher has performed well this summer with Harbaugh saying he “definitely put himself in the position to be a contributor for us.” He’s bigger than starter Tyler Linderbaum — outweighing him by 27 pounds, according to the official roster — but Mustipher appears to have earned a spot unless the Ravens are willing to use Patrick Mekari at center, something they’ve been reluctant to do since 2020.

ILB Trenton Simpson

The 2023 third-round pick’s preseason debut against Washington was about what you’d expect from someone who missed a sizable portion of training camp and was already regarded as a raw talent out of Clemson. However, his athleticism was evident even as he made mistakes, and inside linebackers coach Zach Orr noted that rookies make a big jump from their first preseason game to the second. The Ravens aren’t in a rush to get Simpson on the field this season with Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen entrenched as the starters, but you’d like to see enough improvement to think he can continue developing in practice to be ready to contribute if pressed into duty later this season.

TE Travis Vokolek

The rookie free agent out of Nebraska has turned some heads as a receiver this summer, making five receptions for 58 yards over two games and catching two touchdowns from Anthony Brown in front of a national TV audience last Monday night. Unfortunately for him, the Ravens already have two young tight ends behind three-time Pro Bowl selection Mark Andrews and wouldn’t figure to have room for the 6-foot-6, 260-pound Vokolek. Another strong performance in the preseason finale would likely put him on the radar of other teams seeking tight end depth after final cuts. If not, he would be a no-brainer addition to Baltimore’s practice squad.

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