Now that the preseason is finally over, the next order of business for the Ravens is finalizing their 53-man roster, which will have to be done by 4 p.m. Saturday.
The Ravens are currently at 75 players, so they’ll need to make 22 moves over the next 36 hours or so. Two of the moves have already been made for them, as running back Ray Rice (two games) and safety Will Hill (six games) will start the season on the suspended list.
That will save – at least temporarily – two players' jobs. Veteran nose tackle Terrence Cody, who hasn’t practiced this summer after having hip surgery, also figures to start the season on the physically unable to perform list if the organization opts to hold onto him.
So, that essentially means the Ravens have to jettison 19 players.
Those decisions will likely start being made today when players report to the Under Armour Performance Center. However, other moves will go right down to the wire as the Ravens scour the waiver wire and consider trades that would upgrade their talent and depth at certain spots.
Here’s a look at a handful of the toughest decisions the Ravens have to make:
Do they take a No. 3 quarterback?
The Ravens haven’t since the trio of Joe Flacco, Troy Smith and John Beck made the team in 2009, but this figured to be the year that changed after they used a sixth-round pick on Ball State’s Keith Wenning.
The thought process was Wenning would challenge Tyrod Taylor for the No. 2 job and then settle into the third quarterback role. That would give him a year to learn before potentially replacing Taylor as Flacco’s primary backup after the season, when Taylor is eligible for free agency.
But Wenning didn’t always look NFL-ready in practice and he played sparingly in the first three preseason games. In about a quarter against the Dallas Cowboys, he completed 2 of 4 passes for 23 yards and lost a fumble. He was sacked twice and head coach John Harbaugh said after the game that Wenning needed to get the ball out quicker.
Wenning did show a lot of improvement last night, completing 8-of-13 passes for 117 yards. He directed scoring drives on two of the Ravens’ three full second-half possessions.
The Ravens don’t like cutting drafted rookies, but with so many injuries on defense, they might not be able to afford to use a 53-man spot on a third quarterback who will likely be inactive every game day. They might just have to roll the dice and hope Wenning clears waivers, so they can re-sign him to their practice squad.
Who wins the final one or two receiver spots?
The first question is: how many receivers will the Ravens keep?
Under Harbaugh, they’ve leaned toward carrying six, but they kept seven last year and five earlier in the head coach’s tenure.
There are eight on the roster and four of them – Torrey Smith, Steve Smith, Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown – are cemented in their roles. That leaves Kamar Aiken, Jeremy Butler, Michael Campanaro (River Hill) and Deonte Thompson for, likely, two spots.
Butler is probably en route to the practice squad despite opening a lot of eyes in training camp. So the bet here is the Ravens will choose two from the group that includes Aiken, Campanaro and Thompson.
Aiken, Thompson and Campanaro all had really strong preseasons. What’s also in Campanaro’s favor is that the Ravens traded a 2015 sixth-round pick to select him. As I said above with Wenning, they don’t like giving up on draft picks so quickly.
These spots might come down to which wide receivers the Ravens think can help them the most on special teams. If Thompson is let go, he shouldn’t be out of work for long.
How will Jah Reid’s injury affect the Ravens' decisions on the offensive line?
Reid, who was penciled in as the top backup at tackle, is currently dealing with a concussion. Harbaugh said last week that he expects him to be back at practice, perhaps as early as today, so maybe this is a moot point.
But if Reid is not ready, their top two backup tackles are undrafted rookie free agents James Hurst and Parker Graham. That’s worrisome.
If Reid is fine, there’s not much ambiguity on the offensive line. Eugene Monroe and Rick Wagner are the starting tackles and Kelechi Osemele and Marshal Yanda are the starting guards. Jeremy Zuttah will start at center. Reid, center Gino Gradkowski, guards A.Q. Shipley and John Urschel project as the top reserves.
That would leave Hurst, Graham, center Reggie Stephens and guard/center Ryan Jensen as the odd men out.
How will the secondary shake out?
This is almost impossible to predict because not a whole lot is known about the health of cornerbacks Lardarius Webb (back), Jimmy Smith (chest contusion), Asa Jackson (ankle sprain) and safety Matt Elam (leg).
If two of those guys won’t be ready for the Sept. 7 season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, that would significantly alter the roster decisions at defensive back.
It would also be almost surprising if the Ravens don’t make another move – either via a trade or waiver claim – to bring in another corner in the coming days.
But just looking at what they have, Webb, Smith and Jackson are the top three cornerbacks. Chykie Brown seemingly has an edge on the fourth spot, but after his uneven summer, I’d stop short of calling him a roster lock.
Veterans Dominique Franks and the recently-acquired Derek Cox might be competing for one spot. Undrafted rookie free agents Tramain Jacobs and Sammy Seamster are probably practice-squad bound.
The Ravens have seven safeties including Hill, who won’t be available to play until late October. Elam, Darian Stewart and Terrence Brooks are the top guys. Brynden Trawick, Jeromy Miles and Anthony Levine are the remaining three and all were core special teams players last year.
One – if not two – of those guys will probably be out of a job.
Again, it probably all depends on who the coaching staff values the most on special teams.