Roster cuts loom for the Ravens who will have to weigh several injuries in their decision-making process.
The Ravens will have to cut down their roster from 90 players to 75 by 4 p.m. Tuesday. I wouldn't expect any dramatic moves, although it's possible the team could let a couple of veterans go during the first round of cuts as a courtesy; another wave of players hits the market when rosters go from 75 to 53 on Sept. 5.
The Ravens have some flexibility because at least four players — tight ends Dennis Pitta (hip) and Allen Reisner (ankle), defensive end Brent Urban (biceps) and safety Matt Elam (biceps) — could land on injured reserve or, in Pitta's case, shift to the regular-season physically-unable-to-perform list. Rookie offensive tackle De'Ondre Wesley, who suffered ligament damage in his knee Saturday against the Philadelphia Eagles, could go on the IR as well.
If I had to make a list of the highest-profile Ravens on the roster bubble, I'd include wide receiver Jeremy Butler, running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, guard-center Ryan Jensen, inside linebacker Arthur Brown, defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, and cornerbacks Asa Jackson and Cassius Vaughn. Jackson, though, is probably safe because nobody else really has challenged him for the primary returner role.
Butler has struggled after making such a strong showing throughout the summer, but two things suggest he has a pretty good chance of making the team. First, he has been used in preseason with some of the starting special teams units, which was one of the first indications last year that Kamar Aiken likely was going to make the team. Second, if Breshad Perriman is unavailable early in the regular season because of his sprained knee or if Michael Campanaro's soft-tissue injury lingers, the Ravens figure to need another wide receiver on the 53-man roster. That could be an opening for Butler if he needs it.
Running back Lorenzo Taliaferro's knee injury perfectly exemplifies why it's nearly impossible to forecast the final 53-man roster at this time of preseason. By all accounts, Taliaferro will be sidelined for multiple weeks, although the injury doesn't appear serious enough to warrant a trip to the IR for the second-year back. That means the Ravens likely will have to carry a third running back behind Justin Forsett and Buck Allen on the 53-man roster until Taliaferro is ready to return. That's obviously good news for Toussaint and undrafted rookie running back Terrence Magee, but it's a tough development for bubble players at other positions. Having to take one more running back would mean keeping one fewer player elsewhere.
Long after the Ravens' practice ended Thursday, Pitta was out on the far field, running a series of routes as Bryn Renner threw him the ball. He ran seam routes, out patterns and even took off downfield for deep passes from Renner. Pitta, who remains on the PUP list as he continues to rehabilitate a fractured and dislocated hip, is moving just fine, but that's not what could prevent him from playing in 2015 or possibly ever again. Doctors have to be convinced that Pitta would be able to handle contact and not risk futher injury by playing again.
It has to be killing Pitta to not be out there preparing for the season with the rest of his teammates. But you have to credit him for not just shutting down. He's out there all the time, working on the field before games and after practices. The young tight ends say Pitta is like another coach in their meetings. So whether he's playing or not, Pitta is still clearly intent on making an impact on the organization.
Ngata feeling unwanted?
Detroit Lions defensive tackle Haloti Ngata made some interesting comments this week when he told the team's official website that he has a chip on his shoulder because "somebody didn't want me" and he's "trying to prove someone wrong." That somebody is the Ravens, who traded the perennial Pro Bowl performer in the offseason after failing to reach an agreement on an altered contract. Ngata has showered the Ravens with praise since the trade, so I doubt he meant anything negative toward the organization.
But it's probably worth pointing out that the Ravens offered Ngata a significant amount of money on a potential new deal. Now, it obviously wasn't enough from Ngata's perspective, but to suggest that the Ravens didn't want him and don't think he's a great player anymore just isn't true. Working with very little salary cap room, the Ravens tried to get a deal done that would keep Ngata in purple, and they just couldn't find a compromise. Ngata, by the way, still hasn't practiced with the Lions because of a hamstring injury, and it's unclear whether he'll be ready in time for Detroit's season opener.
It could get worse
The list of player ailments provokes daily groans by Ravens fans and complaints about how hard the team has gotten hit by the injury bug, but trust me when I tell you this: The Ravens aren't alone. Actually, they don't have it all that bad when you consider what other teams have lost.
Look at the New York Giants, who are already down four safeties to season-ending injuries. Look no further than the Pittsburgh Steelers, who will be without Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey (broken fibula) for most, if not all, of the season, and who already have had to replace injured backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski and kicker Shaun Suisham. Those injures are compounded by the fact that star running back Le'Veon Bell and No. 2 wide receiver Martavis Bryant might start the season on the suspended list. Those are self-induced problems, but the point is that they will leave the Steelers short-handed. The Ravens play the Steelers in Week 4, and while Bell (two-game suspension) will be back by then, Pouncey and Bryant (reportedly appealing a four-game ban) probably won't be.