Friday, September 30, 2022

Ravens-Titans preseason primer: One question at each position group

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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.

After injuries turned 2021 upside down and never relented, the Ravens aren’t taking any chances in the preseason opener against Tennessee on Thursday night.

Typically reluctant to announce his plans regarding playing time for these exhibition games, head coach John Harbaugh has already confirmed superstar quarterback Lamar Jackson and other key veterans won’t suit up against the Titans. The real question will be whether we see Baltimore’s most prominent players at all before Week 1.

“I think you can kind of extrapolate who will play and who won’t [on Thursday], and then there will be some decisions with some guys that we haven’t completely made yet,” Harbaugh said. “But certain guys like Lamar are not going to play; Mark [Andrews] is not going to play. Those experienced starters — Justin Houston, Marcus Williams — [aren’t] going to play. Marlon [Humphrey] is not going to play. Just to give you an example of the guys who aren’t going to play.”

Of course, Thursday carries higher stakes for unproven rookies hoping to make a strong impression in their first live-game opportunity in the NFL and veterans trying to fight off roster hopefuls who could be younger, faster, and cheaper. Some look their best when the bright lights come on while others tend to wilt against unfamiliar competition.

As veteran safety Tony Jefferson put it, preseason games provide the opportunity to “show my worth.”

“Preseason is very important, especially for young guys and then guys in my position who are trying to show that they’ve still got something in there,” Jefferson said. “I think you have to turn it on once it’s game time because it’s life or death really for a lot of guys.

“You never know what’s going to happen after. You can’t just assume if things don’t work out here, you’re going to get picked up somewhere else. You just want to put out the best tape you can.”

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 Thursday’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), C Tyler Linderbaum (foot), TE Charlie Kolar (sports hernia), OT Ronnie Stanley (ankle), OLB Tyus Bowser (Achilles), CB Marcus Peters (knee), RB Gus Edwards (knee), OLB David Ojabo (Achilles), S Ar’Darius Washington (foot)
DOUBTFUL: DB Brandon Stephens (soft-tissue injury)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Devin Duvernay (thigh), WR Rashod Bateman (soft-tissue injury), CB Jalyn Armour-Davis (undisclosed), OT David Sharpe (undisclosed), WR Devon Williams (undisclosed), WR Bailey Gaither (undisclosed), WR Slade Bolden (undisclosed)

One question at each position group

Is there a real No. 3 quarterback on the preseason roster?

There’s no reason to think the Ravens plan to carry three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, but they’ll likely want to have one on the practice squad for some insurance behind Jackson and backup Tyler Huntley. Youth is on the side of undrafted rookie Anthony Brown, but Baltimore signed 29-year-old Brett Hundley to the 90-man roster in late May. Brown needs to play well to stick with the Ravens or get his foot in the door elsewhere while this could be the last NFL chance for Hundley.

Which running back will distinguish himself?

While Harbaugh recently said “it couldn’t be much more wide open” at running back with Dobbins easing back into practice and Edwards still rehabbing his knee, the competition has looked underwhelming thus far. Justice Hill has shown some quickness and promise as a receiver out of the backfield coming off his Achilles injury, but veterans Mike Davis and Corey Clement haven’t stood out and sixth-round rookie Tyler Badie hasn’t flashed like he did in the spring. Of course, evaluating the backs is more challenging with little contact over the first two weeks of camp, making Thursday a valuable opportunity to shine.

How does Isaiah Likely look in live-game action?

Especially with fellow fourth-round rookie Charlie Kolar sidelined indefinitely after undergoing sports hernia surgery, the Ravens have designs of a big offensive role for Likely, whom Jackson has already labeled “Baby Mark” as the understudy to Andrews. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Likely now needs to carry over the standout plays we’ve seen all spring and summer and continue to look like a legitimate threat prompting offensive coordinator Greg Roman to use more two-tight sets this fall.

Can Tylan Wallace strengthen his standing as the No. 4 wide receiver?

Even if one believes in the trio of Bateman, Duvernay, and James Proche atop the depth chart, there’s still the question of depth that begins with the 2021 fourth-round pick from Oklahoma State who caught just two passes in 84 snaps as a rookie. Wallace generally makes the ordinary catches in practice, but he hasn’t made the types of plays or shown the athleticism to distinguish himself from the group of undrafted and former practice-squad receivers vying for a roster spot. Will the 5-foot-11, 193-pound Wallace emerge in games, or will it be someone else like Jaylon Moore or Binjimen Victor standing out?

How does the depth at left tackle and center look?

While Stanley is nearing his return to the practice field, the Ravens want to take a long look at veteran Ja’Wuan James, who is working extensively at left tackle for the first time since high school and has appeared in just three NFL games since the end of 2018. Whether Stanley is 100% and ready for Week 1 or not, Baltimore needs a reliable understudy to protect Jackson’s blindside. Unfortunately, the recent foot injury to the rookie Linderbaum reintroduced concern at center where Patrick Mekari is currently filling in. Harbaugh denied the report of Linderbaum having a Lisfranc injury, but it’s difficult not to be concerned about the first-round pick from Iowa until he is back on the field and shows the foot won’t be a lingering issue.

Will Travis Jones shine in the trenches?

You take notice when veterans and coaches go out of their way to mention a young player during interviews, and the third-round pick out of Connecticut has turned plenty of heads so far this summer. The 6-foot-4, 327-pound Jones figures to get plenty of snaps with veterans Calais Campbell and Michael Pierce unlikely to suit up against the Titans, so you want to see him look as disruptive as he’s been during practices.

Where are the undrafted rookie inside linebackers?

There may not be much roster room behind the foursome of Patrick Queen, Josh Bynes, Malik Harrison, and Kristian Welch, but it’s no secret that the Ravens have routinely found diamonds in the rough at this position, which is why it’s been surprising not to see more from Diego Fagot, Josh Ross, and Zakoby McClain. Plenty of Ravens fans will be rooting for Fagot, a Naval Academy product, so the time is now for him — or any of these rookies — to starting making a push for roster consideration.

Can Daelin Hayes ease depth concerns at outside linebacker?

The long-term outlook is more promising with Bowser aiming to be ready for Week 1 and Ojabo vowing to contribute later this season, but there’s little depth behind Houston and 2021 first-round pick Odafe Oweh, especially with veteran Vince Biegel tearing his Achilles last week. For a second straight year, Hayes hasn’t flashed as much this summer as he did in the spring, but the 2021 fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame should have every opportunity to stand out as the potential backup “Sam” linebacker to Bowser. If he doesn’t, you’d have to think Eric DeCosta will add some veteran help at this position.

Who is the No. 3 cornerback?

The Ravens are likely to use more big nickel packages to maximize their safety depth this season, but it remains to be seen who will serve as the third corner when defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald deploys a conventional nickel alignment, especially considering Humphrey’s ability to play outside or cover the slot. Stephens looked like the early favorite for the No. 3 job, but he’s been sidelined for more than a week with a soft-tissue injury, opening the door for Kyle Fuller, Kevon Seymour, Damarion Williams, and Armour-Davis to state their case in the meantime.

Will Kyle Hamilton be unleashed?

Though the 14th overall pick’s slow start to camp was greatly exaggerated, we’ve seen a more aggressive Hamilton in recent practices to quell any concerns. How Macdonald uses the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Hamilton should be fascinating, but we’re likely to see vanilla schemes in the preseason. You just want to see Hamilton play fast and with confidence in his first game action.

What impression will Jordan Stout make?

The expectations are high for a fourth-round punter and the Penn State product has shown off a strong leg in practices, but long-term consistency will be key in effectively replacing the retired Sam Koch. Punter is one of those positions where it’s perfectly fine to go unnoticed; you just don’t want to stand out for the wrong reasons.

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