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Mike Preston: McSorley injury gives Huntley big chance to stake claim to No. 2 quarterback job | COMMENTARY

"We said he had the back spasms, [it] turned out to be something in his back," said Ravens Harbaugh on quarterback Trace McSorley injury. "It's an issue."

Quarterback Tyler Huntley will get a chance to solidify his spot as the Ravens’ top backup quarterback after coach John Harbaugh announced Monday that his top competitor for the position, Trace McSorley, will be sidelined for several weeks with a back injury.

Harbaugh said McSorley, the No. 3 most of last season behind starter Lamar Jackson and Robert Griffin III, hurt his back lifting something before Saturday night’s game against the New Orleans Saints.

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With Griffin no longer in the picture, McSorley, a third-year player has been battling Huntley for the No. 2 position since the beginning of training camp. McSorley started the game against the Saints and struggled early but finished with 11 completions in 18 pass attempts for 86 yards and a quarterback rating of 49.8. Huntley, in his second season, was 12 of 16 for 79 yards with a rating of 85.2.

McSorley performed against the Saints starters behind an offensive line that was missing three key performers.

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“A couple of injury things — Trace McSorley is the main one,” Harbaugh said, beginning his post-practice news conference. “He actually has … he was picking up a box or something the day of the game. We said he had the back spasms, [it] turned out to be something in his back. It’s an issue. He wrenched it in some way, so he’s going to be out for a few weeks with that situation.”

Huntley outperformed McSorley last season in training camp but McSorley entered the summer with more experience, which was a bigger factor than usual because the coronavirus pandemic led to the cancellation of all preseason games.

Both had been solid in this training camp, but Huntley is a better fit for the Ravens, especially with an offense built around the run-oriented Jackson. Huntley throws the best long ball in camp and had the game-winning 7-yard touchdown run with 6:35 remaining in a 17-14 victory against New Orleans.

Even if McSorley hadn’t gotten hurt, Huntley might have started against the Carolina Panthers this Saturday because Harbaugh said a rotation was in place. But if Huntley plays well, this contest is over. In some ways, he has already proved that if Jackson goes down with an injury, he gives the Ravens their best chance of winning because of a skill set similar to Jackson’s.

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And that would come in handy with the way the offensive line performed against the Saints.

Building back the line

Maybe the real beginning of putting this offense together happened Monday at practice with the return from injuries of starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley and right guard Kevin Zeitler.

Stanley, one of the best at his position in the NFL, worked in some individual drills during the past two weeks but on Monday worked with the first team in run offense versus run defense. He also worked against rookie outside linebacker Odafe Oweh, a first-round draft pick out of Penn State, in one-on-one pass protection.

It was an interesting matchup. Once Stanley got one of those big paws on Oweh, he just rode him out. Stanley can match Oweh in foot speed, but when Oweh learns to engage and work counter moves, he could become really good.

"No, I've never done it before," said Oweh when asked about playing special teams. "I'm learning how to do it right now."

“Yes, I’ve been trying to go against Ronnie for the longest [time], but obviously, he’s going through some stuff,” Oweh said. “We want him to get better and want him to compete during the season, but it was good getting some work against him today. He has that vet set, so you’ve got to be on your P’s and Q’s for everything. [He has] strong hands, and he has good feet, so you can try to break him down, but you’ve got to be fast with the hands, as well. So, it was a good rep, it was a good rep.”

As for Zeitler, he looked as tough and as ornery as ever.

It’s kind of what we expected with both those guys, hopefully, for this week,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll ease them in this week a little bit, too. But they’re both doing very well.”

Right offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva looks a little quicker these days and certainly bending better at the knees. One other lineman to keep an eye on is Foster Sarell, a rookie free agent from Stanford. He can play tackle or guard and moves well. The Ravens might put him on the development squad for a year.

Showdown of the day

The best move of Monday’s practice came in the matchup of receiver Sammy Watkins and cornerback Marlon Humphrey.

Watkins appeared to run a quick hitch, then a vertical before stopping after 10 yards and then a comeback. Humphrey never came back and the move drew a lot of applause from fans as Watkins broke Humphrey’s ankles and maybe tore a knee ligament as well (just joking).

Watkins has worked hard in training camp, especially when his quarterbacks are scrambling. He seems to have a knack for finding open areas, something that was probably emphasized playing in Kansas City with star Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Rookie report

Oweh had a pretty decent debut in the preseason opener and two other rookies impressed on defense: fellow outside linebacker Daelin Hayes and safety Brandon Stephens.

Hayes was credited with two tackles, got some pressures on the quarterback and seldom was out of position. He holds the edge well, which was evident when receiver Devin Duvernay took a handoff on a reverse in Monday’s practice and Hayes had enough speed to run with him and not allow Duvernay to turn the corner.

Stephens finished with seven tackles against New Orleans. The Ravens worked him into their dime coverage early and he showed that not only can he tackle well, but he can blitz from anywhere. That’s great for the defense, but it still doesn’t have a safety with speed who can play center field in the deep third of the field.

I thought Stephens was that guy, but I haven’t seen that type of speed yet.

Kicker finishing school

Jake Verity was 2-for-2 on field-goal attempts against New Orleans, including one of 53 yards. It makes you wonder why any kicker would come to the Ravens, who already have Justin Tucker, one of the best kickers in NFL history.

Actually, it makes a lot of sense. Harbaugh was a longtime special teams coach in Philadelphia and the Ravens have one of the better kicking coaches in Randy Brown. In addition, Verity gets to work under Tucker as well as Sam Koch, one of the game’s top punters.

If he continues to perform well, Verity will get a chance somewhere else before the season is over. Baltimore is a nice place for kickers unless your name is Billy Cundiff.

Not their finest moments

The Ravens offense has been a comedy of errors with so many players in and out of the lineup due to injury.

On Monday, left offensive tackle Patrick Mekari jumped offside, locked into his pass set and still got beat around the cornerback by outside linebacker Tyus Bowser.

Sorry folks, that shouldn’t happen.

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And then rookie fullback Ben Mason, going in motion, turned upfield and ran 5 yards before he realized the ball was never snapped. Poor Greg Roman, the Ravens offensive coordinator. It’s one thing to have to replace starters and another to have players who can’t count.

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Preseason, Week 2

RAVENS@PANTHERS

Saturday, 7 p.m.

TV: Chs. 11, 7

Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

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