OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A 2021 campaign that hasn’t even started for the Ravens is already feeling like a season from hell as two more key players went down with serious knee injuries during Thursday afternoon’s practice.
According to multiple reports, three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters and running back Gus Edwards each sustained a torn ACL in non-contact injuries just moments apart. The Ravens haven’t confirmed the season-ending injuries and had already held Thursday’s media availability before practice, but the devastating sequence of events days before Monday’s opener at Las Vegas prompted head coach John Harbaugh to end the workout early. Peters and Edwards were officially listed as limited participants on Thursday’s injury report, but that didn’t tell the story for a team with Super Bowl aspirations continuing to be ravaged by injuries.
Edwards is now the third Ravens running back to be lost for the season in the last 12 days after projected starter J.K. Dobbins sustained a torn ACL in his left knee in the preseason finale at Washington on Aug. 28 and backup Justice Hill tore his Achilles tendon during practice on Sept. 2. It’s a brutal development for Edwards, who was in line for his first full-season starting role after rushing for more than 700 yards and averaging over 5.0 yards per carry in each of his first three seasons.
The injury to Edwards means former rookie free agent and 2020 practice-squad member Ty’Son Williams now moves to the top of the depth chart with the only other running backs in the organization being Trenton Cannon and three-time Pro Bowl selection Le’Veon Bell, who were both signed only this week. Williams had impressed this preseason to the point of likely beating out Hill for the No. 3 job before the unthinkable run of injuries began, but handing the starting reins to the BYU product without a carry in the NFL reflects a scary situation — at least in the short term.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Ravens will add Devonta Freeman to their practice squad after the two-time Pro Bowl running back worked out in Owings Mills earlier this week. While the 29-year-old Bell wasn’t with a team in the spring or summer after finishing last year with Kansas City, Freeman, 29, spent the preseason with New Orleans and is presumably closer to live-game shape in order to be elevated for Monday’s game. The Ravens may also feel more compelled to sign the 31-year-old Latavius Murray, who was released by the Saints in a cost-cutting move earlier this week and is coming off a better 2020 season than either Bell or Freeman.
As long as star quarterback Lamar Jackson is on the field to stress opposing defenses with his dynamic threat to run on any play, the odds remain favorable that offensive coordinator Greg Roman will figure out the running back situation to have a strong ground attack this season. Still, general manager Eric DeCosta using a second-round pick on Dobbins in last year’s draft and awarding Edwards with a two-year, $10 million extension in June would appear to poke holes in the brazen stance that running backs don’t matter all that much in the Baltimore system.
Even considering the horrendous run of injuries at running back and the extensive depth in the secondary, Peters’ loss feels even more significant with the 2015 first-round pick leading the NFL in interceptions since his rookie season and becoming such a significant part of the Ravens’ defensive heartbeat since arriving in a trade midway through the 2019 season. The superb play of Peters and fellow Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey has allowed defensive coordinator Wink Martindale to take more chances with his front seven to scheme pressure and harass quarterbacks without elite pass rushers at his disposal. The Ravens are expected to replace Peters with fourth-year cornerback Anthony Averett, whom was recently labeled by Martindale as possessing “All-Pro talent.”
Just hours earlier, Peters had spoken glowingly about the place where he’s found a football home after being traded by each of his first two NFL teams — Kansas City and the Los Angeles Rams. The 28-year-old defensive back signed a three-year, $42 million contract extension just 2 1/2 months after being acquired by the Ravens.
“It just felt good here,” said Peters, who affectionately compared Baltimore to his native Oakland, California. “All the guys just were young and upbeat, but were willing and determined to work hard to win a Super Bowl here. It was a good mesh of people who were already here, who have been building with the foundation here.”
After originally not being scheduled to talk to reporters again until Saturday, Harbaugh will address the injuries with the media on Friday morning.
Wolfe, Boyle absent Thursday
In less catastrophic injury news, defensive lineman Derek Wolfe (back/hip) and tight end Nick Boyle (knee) remained absent from practice on Thursday.
Harbaugh already said last month that Boyle was unlikely to play in Week 1 while continuing to work his way back from last season’s major knee injury, but Wolfe hasn’t practiced since Aug. 23 with a back injury suffered a few days prior to that, making it unlikely that he’ll play against the Raiders.
“In practice against the Panthers [in Spartanburg, South Carolina], he had something that had been bothering him,” Harbaugh said Thursday. “It’s kind of a lingering-type deal. Hopefully, he’ll be back soon.”
Cornerback Jimmy Smith wasn’t listed on Thursday’s injury report, but that may have been an oversight after the injuries to Peters and Edwards brought practice to a halt. The 33-year-old only returned to practice Wednesday from an ankle injury that had sidelined him since Aug. 6, leaving his Week 1 status in doubt after such a long layoff.
“We’ll see how he looks today and tomorrow as the practices ramp-up a little bit in intensity,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll see how he looks.”
Below is Thursday’s official injury report:
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Nick Boyle (knee), DE Derek Wolfe (back/hip)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Gus Edwards (knee), OLB Daelin Hayes (knee), CB Marcus Peters (knee)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Richie Incognito (calf), S Roderic Teamer (shoulder/ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Josh Jacobs (toe), DE Carl Nassib (pectoral)
FULL PARTICIPATION: DE Clelin Ferrell (back), OT Alex Leatherwood (shin)