Sunday, October 2, 2022

Ravens again sitting Jackson, other key starters in preseason finale

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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.

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — What many anticipated from the moment Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins sustained a season-ending knee injury in the preseason finale last August became official on Thursday.

According to head coach John Harbaugh, star quarterback Lamar Jackson and other key starters will sit out Saturday’s exhibition game against Washington, meaning those individuals will not have played a single snap during the 2022 preseason. Harbaugh wasn’t about to expose his best players to summer game action after enduring a historic run of injuries that contribute to Baltimore’s 8-9 record last season. Just five projected starters have seen limited snaps over the Ravens’ first two preseason games, a list including outside linebacker Odafe Oweh, defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Justin Madubuike, fullback Patrick Ricard, and left guard Ben Powers.

Even with several young backups missing from practices this week, Harbaugh won’t deviate from his plan of keeping many starters on the sideline against the Commanders.

“It’s by individual basis. There are some starters that need the work; some starters don’t. Probably most starters don’t,” Harbaugh said. “Some of those guys [absent from practice this week] are going to play too — we’re just managing some of those guys. They have little things come up. They’re different things. It’s not one size fits all with issues guys have. Some guys took days; some guys are managing loads. We have all of that stuff measured, so you just try to manage that through camp.”

How teams have navigated the preseason has differed for years with some of the most accomplished teams still playing their starters and others — such as the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams — having held out their top players for years now. In the same way we debate whether it’s wise for playoff-bound teams to rest starters at the end of the regular season when they’ve already clinched a postseason berth, the potential drawbacks and concerns about rust are difficult to prove, but the injury downside is evident as it was when Dobbins suffered a torn ACL and other damage to his left knee in the lone series the Ravens’ starting offense played against Washington last Aug. 28.

Of course, the Ravens lost running back Gus Edwards and cornerback Marcus Peters to season-ending ACL tears in a single practice not long after the Dobbins injury, a reminder that there’s no eliminating injuries from football entirely.

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman couldn’t remember a time in his 25-year NFL coaching career when the team for which he worked held out most of its starters for the entire preseason, but he also couldn’t offer a convincing reason why playing your best players in such a setting is all that critical.

“I don’t think that I’ve ever done it before, but [then] I sit back and try to think logically through it,” said Roman, who’s worked for four other NFL teams. “I think back to a series here and a series there that we’ve played. What has that really gotten us? Did it make us feel better? It’s like, ‘I feel better. I saw him go out and execute these four basic plays and put a drive together.’ And that’s good — there’s nothing wrong with that. But I still don’t know how much [it helps].

“I’m not worried about it. We’re just full steam ahead preparing with no concerns. But how much did that really gain us? I don’t know. I’ll get back to you on that.”

How Baltimore starts the regular season will surely impact how Harbaugh’s decision is judged — whether it’s the correct call or not. If the Ravens are slow out of the gate, critics will argue starters weren’t ready for live-game action even while other teams who played their starters extensively in the preseason lose games in September.

As for Ravens players, veterans have predictably downplayed the need to play in the preseason, but it’s a different story for rookies trying to acclimate themselves to the speed of the NFL and bubble players trying to prove they belong on the 53-man roster — in Baltimore or elsewhere. According to strong safety Chuck Clark, not even summer games can prepare you for the crucible that is the regular season.

“I definitely know now, just knowing how different the game is than practice,” Clark said. “In practice, you stress yourself to try to be in shape and condition, but the game is always going to be a little bit different. It doesn’t matter how much you played in the preseason. Once you get real bullets and it’s real, live action, it’s always going to be a little bit different.”

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