Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Ravens-Cardinals preseason primer: One player from each position group to watch

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Luke Jones
Luke Jones
Luke Jones is the Ravens and Orioles beat reporter for WNST BaltimorePositive.com and is a PFWA member. His mind is consumed with useless sports knowledge, pro wrestler promos, and movie quotes, but he struggles to remember where he put his phone. Luke's favorite sports memories include being one of the thousands of kids who waited to get Cal Ripken's autograph after Orioles games in the summer of 1995, attending the Super Bowl XXXV victory parade with his father in the pouring rain, and watching the Terps advance to the Final Four at the Carrier Dome in 2002. Follow him on Twitter @BaltimoreLuke or email him at Luke@wnst.net.

Even with the Ravens making the longest summer road trip in their 27-year history, the second preseason game against Arizona doesn’t figure to look dramatically different from the opener.

Fans must wait another week for their first 2022 look at Lamar Jackson, and there’s no guarantee the star quarterback will play against Washington either. Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed Wednesday that Baltimore will again rest Jackson and a number of others on Sunday night after 32 players — and all but three of the projected offensive and defensive starters — didn’t see action against Tennessee last week.

“Lamar isn’t going to play. Some of the other starters won’t play,” Harbaugh said. “There may be a couple other starters that will play a little bit. It’s kind of hard to go through every guy, but Mark Andrews isn’t going to play, for instance. … We’ll see, but that’s how it looks right now.”

With Jackson and Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray sitting out, a national FOX audience is unlikely to be captivated by the Ravens’ efforts to extend their record 21-game preseason winning streak, but there is still much at stake for those players trying to win starting jobs or simply secure a spot on the 53-man roster or with the practice squad.

One of those individuals is the 31-year-old Steven Means, who is striving to earn a roster spot as part of an outside linebacker group lacking depth entering the season.

“It’s exciting to get up knowing that you have something to prove, knowing that you just get to go play,” said Means, who’s in his second stint with the Ravens. “Once you just kind of breathe, you do all of your due diligence, you make sure you’re studying the plays so you can play fast, you make sure you’re taking care of your body so you can play fast.

“Once you get out there, you just have fun and let it rip.”

Unofficial (and speculative) injury report

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

Most of the players estimated to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of others remains in question. This list does not include any veterans being held out at the coaching staff’s discretion.

Below is not an injury report released by the Ravens:

OUT: RB J.K. Dobbins (knee), CB Marcus Peters (knee), WR Tylan Wallace (knee), C Tyler Linderbaum (foot), TE Charlie Kolar (sports hernia), OT Ronnie Stanley (ankle), OLB Tyus Bowser (Achilles), RB Gus Edwards (knee), OLB David Ojabo (Achilles)
DOUBTFUL: WR James Proche (soft-tissue injury)
QUESTIONABLE: S Ar’Darius Washington (foot), DB Brandon Stephens (thigh), TE Nick Boyle (knee), CB Jalyn Armour-Davis (head), OT Daniel Faalele (undisclosed), OT David Sharpe (undisclosed)

One player to watch from each position group

QB Anthony Brown

Brett Hundley’s release was good news for Brown, who should see extensive playing time with the Ravens holding out Jackson and not wanting to overexpose backup Tyler Huntley against Arizona. The rookie free agent out of Oregon went 10-for-15 for 117 yards against the Titans and has put together a solid enough camp to be a developmental No. 3 quarterback worthy of the practice squad.

RB Justice Hill

Despite not standing out statistically in the preseason opener, the fourth-year back was second in the pecking order behind veteran Mike Davis and hasn’t shown any lingering effects from last year’s Achilles tendon injury, which should bode well for his roster chances with Dobbins’ early-season status still unclear. Hill needs to maintain his momentum with younger backs Tyler Badie and Nate McCrary carrying more years of team control, but he’s been trending in a positive direction since early in camp.

TE Nick Boyle

Though it’s not a given that Boyle will play Sunday night after sitting out the opener, the 29-year-old expressed his “need” to play in the preseason earlier this month and is still working his way back to pre-injury form. Make no mistake, Boyle is far ahead of where he was last year returning from his brutal 2020 knee injury, but the Ravens are still managing his practice workload and he’s still knocking off rust. Given how critical Boyle’s blocking has been to Greg Roman’s rushing attack, you’d like to get a better idea of where he is physically in a live-game setting before Week 1.

WR Devin Duvernay

The big question at wide receiver isn’t as much about 2021 first-round pick Rashod Bateman as it is the depth behind him with Duvernay catching just 33 passes for 272 yards in over 600 offensive snaps last season, a healthy amount of playing time. Proponents of the Ravens’ in-house plan at the position will argue that the 2020 third-round pick out of Texas was no better than the No. 4 option on most plays, but that should make Sunday a great opportunity to feature him more prominently, especially with Proche not expected to play and Bateman potentially sitting out again. If Duvernay is worthy of being a No. 2 wide receiver, he should be able to produce in such an environment even with Huntley at quarterback instead of Jackson.

G Ben Powers

Entering the spring, Powers seemed more likely to be the odd man out rather than the favorite to start at left guard, especially as someone entering the final year of his rookie deal and scheduled to make $2.54 million in base salary. Instead, he continues to receive the overwhelming majority of first-team practice reps over Tyre Phillips and additional work at center with Linderbaum sidelined with a foot injury for the last two weeks. The left guard competition is far from over with the start of the season still three weeks away, but Harbaugh acknowledged this week that Powers “has been the most consistent guy there.”

DT Justin Madubuike

After missing the preseason opener and a couple workouts due to migraine headaches, the third-year defensive lineman practiced without incident this week and remains on track to start at the 3-technique spot. However, I’m interested to see how Madubuike responds with much of the preseason hype that used to be for him now going to rookie Travis Jones. Madubuike didn’t make the big jump many predicted in 2021, so this feels like a pivotal year in determining whether he becomes that high-impact interior defender or continues as the solid but unspectacular contributor he’s been over his first couple seasons.

ILB Malik Harrison

While Harrison continues to compete for more playing time behind projected starters Patrick Queen and Josh Bynes in a position group lacking depth, I’m more interested to see whether the 2020 third-round product out of Ohio State sees some game snaps at “Sam” or strong-side outside linebacker, a position at which he began practicing last season and has continued some this summer. The current numbers at inside linebacker make it difficult to envision a permanent position change, but the early-season status of Bowser being up in the air could open the door for Harrison to see some playing time at the edge.

OLB Daelin Hayes

Speaking of “Sam” linebackers, Hayes has received a good bit of first-team run and hasn’t built on the flashes he showed in the spring, which is what happened during his rookie season. Outside linebackers coach Rob Leonard spoke this week about the 2021 fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame needing to play faster and “trying to get his eyes and hands right,” which wasn’t much of an endorsement for someone with an opportunity to earn some real playing time in Bowser’s absence. His 23 defensive snaps against the Titans were quiet as he didn’t record a tackle or quarterback hit.

CB Brandon Stephens

Despite missing roughly 10 days of action with a soft-tissue injury earlier this month, Stephens is one of the more interesting defensive players with his transition from safety to cornerback in his second season. He’s practiced extensively on the outside as well as at the slot in nickel packages, so there’s some curiosity to see how he performs in live-game action after missing the Tennessee game. The Ravens have talked at length about having “position-less” defenders, and Stephens has the potential to carry plenty of game-day value if he can play multiple back-end positions without much drop-off.

S Tony Jefferson

The versatile Stephens has the potential to impact the 30-year-old Jefferson, who is currently the fifth safety on the depth chart after making his feel-good return to Baltimore late last season. Jefferson hasn’t had a bad camp by any means, and the Ravens would ideally like to keep him on the 53-man roster for his leadership and character in the locker room. However, one could argue in favor of keeping an additional cornerback when considering Stephens’ ability to shift back to safety if more depth is suddenly needed behind Marcus Williams, Chuck Clark, Kyle Hamilton, and Geno Stone. Will Jefferson shine on defense and carve out a large enough role on special teams to lock up a spot over these final two preseason games?

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