NFL teams are playing three preseason games this year instead of four, which is why the Ravens’ matchup against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Saturday night is of particular interest.
Coaches are paranoid by nature, but it is clearly evident in the preseason. Even though the outcomes of exhibition games mean virtually nothing, coaches are guarded as if they don’t want to give away any hidden treasures. They say one thing and then do the complete opposite. So, it’s a guessing game as to how long the Ravens’ starters will play against Carolina.
It’s still intriguing because the Ravens have many holes to fill. Heading into training camp, it seemed as if everything might come together after the team took gradual steps toward playing in the Super Bowl in each of the past three seasons. But the Ravens have suffered several injuries, which have disrupted installation and timing, especially on offense.
Some of the injured players are starting to heal and return to the playing field, even though receivers Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and Rashod Bateman, tight end Nick Boyle and cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Jimmy Smith aren’t expected to play Saturday night.
Here are some things to watch at every position heading into Saturday night’s game:
If Lamar Jackson plays, it probably won’t be for more than a few drives, especially behind an injury-plagued offensive line. Even without Bateman or Brown, it would be nice to see Jackson play in a game situation. The Ravens will keep a lot of the passing offense hidden until the regular season, but questions about Jackson’s consistency throwing deep will persist until he proves otherwise. With Trace McSorley out for weeks with a back injury, Tyler Huntley gets a chance to prove that he is the No. 2 quarterback. His skill-set is very similar to Jackson’s, even though no quarterback can match Jackson’s big-play ability. It’s Huntley’s time to step up.
This group will get better now that right guard Kevin Zeitler has returned from a foot injury and Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley is progressing well after his ankle surgery. But the Ravens need to find a left guard because neither Ben Powers, Tyre Phillips nor Ben Cleveland have taken control. Veteran Alejandro Villanueva has struggled at right tackle, and the Ravens don’t have a quality backup. Trystan Colon has performed well at center in place of the injured Bradley Bozeman (ankle), but it’s Bozeman’s job to lose. He is regarded as the starter, and coach John Harbaugh prefers having a bigger center like the 6-foot-5, 325-pound Bozeman.
Mark Andrews is the starter and Boyle is No. 2 on the depth chart, but Boyle hasn’t practiced in training camp as he recovers from a knee injury. It appears that Eric Tomlinson would be No. 2 and Josh Oliver No. 3 if Boyle isn’t ready by the beginning of the season. Regardless, the Ravens will miss Boyle. He has performed well as a blocker and has improved as a receiver, making him the perfect complement to Andrews in two-tight end sets. Tomlinson should see plenty of action Saturday.
The Ravens have talent at receiver, but they can’t get them all on the field at the same time. Brown, Bateman and Sammy Watkins are definite starters, but it will be interesting to see how the Ravens work James Proche II into the rotation. Proche, in his second season, has been the team’s most productive receiver in training camp. Devin Duvernay has had his moments, but probably has a spot on the roster because he can return punts and kicks. Jaylon Moore has been a deep ball threat and rookie Tylan Wallace has good hands, but lacks speed. Third-year player Miles Boykin is a guy to watch. He is a solid receiver and gunner on special teams, but has been slowed by a hamstring injury. As the old saying goes, “you can’t make the club in the tub.”
J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards have the top two spots nailed down, and Justice Hill, a 2019 fourth-round draft pick who’s battling an undisclosed injury, is No. 3 because he catches the ball out of the backfield and plays well on special teams. Ty’Son Williams, a 2020 undrafted free agent, has performed well and Nate McCrary has speed, but they might be battling for a spot on the practice squad. They at least give the Ravens some options if Dobbins or Edwards gets hurt.
Starters Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe and Brandon Williams won’t play much, and they shouldn’t. They are veterans, and it’s unlikely all three will make it through the regular season without missing extensive time because of injury. It’s better to save them now. But Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington and Justin Ellis are good backups, and all three played well a week ago against the Saints. It appears the Ravens’ defensive line of the future has already arrived.
The key to greatness is consistency, and second-year inside linebackers Malik Harrison and Patrick Queen were outstanding a week ago. Now, let’s see them do it again and again. Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale has proven he can create pressure with blitzes, but the Ravens need young players like outside linebackers Odafe Oweh, Daelin Hayes and Jaylon Ferguson to show they can win one-on-one matchups. Ferguson played well against the Saints, but he is in the same situation as Harrison and Queen. Can he do it again and again?
Martindale got a little carried away recently when he said Anthony Averett was the third best cornerback on the team. That’s just Martindale being Martindale. Let’s just say Averett has been impressive in camp and gives the Ravens depth behind Smith, Humphrey, Marcus Peters and Tavon Young. Actually, there is more interest in the dime package, where the Ravens have inserted rookie safety Brandon Stephens. The third-round pick tackles well and can provide pressure inside or outside as a rusher in passing situations. He’s another rookie in a class that has been solid so far and has the potential to get better.
Preseason, Week 2
Saturday, 7 p.m.
TV: Chs. 11, 7
Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM