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Ravens news, notes and opinions on roster competitions, running backs and the pass rush

Ravens news, notes and opinions on roster competitions, running backs and the pass rush
Left to right: Ravens fullback Kiero Small, running back Terrence Magee, running back Buck Allen and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint jog on the field during training camp. (Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

What happened to all of the roster competitions? It's a fair question to ask as the Ravens prepare to trim 22 players from their roster to get down to 53 by Saturday.

The much-anticipated wide receiver battle never got off the ground with young pass catchers like Jeremy Butler and DeAndre Carter failing to build off their strong performances in the summer minicamps, Breshad Perriman going down and Marlon Brown and Michael Campanaro battling injuries. Butler still could make the team as the sixth receiver, but that will more be an indictment of what other guys didn't do (stay healthy, consistently make plays) than what he did.

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At running back, Lorenzo Taliaferro seized the backup job until he went down with a knee injury. The defensive end competition, which had the potential to be the best in camp, was marred by injuries to Brent Urban, DeAngelo Tyson and Timmy Jernigan. Asa Jackson hasn't exactly run away with the primary kick and punt return job, but nobody really has contested him, either.

What decisions does that leave? Fitzgerald Toussaint and Terrence Magee competing for the No. 3 running back job; Jackson, Cassius Vaughn and Quinton Pointer competing for one, maybe two, cornerback spots; Anthony Levine, Brynden Trawick and Nick Perry battling for one or two safety/special teams spots; and perhaps Brennen Beyer and Zach Thompson looking to secure a job if the Ravens keep five outside linebackers.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh says he's generally been pleased with how things have played out this summer, but even he probably would grudgingly agree that the struggles of some players, and the team's rash of injuries, have taken much of the drama out of the team's roster competitions.

Of course, if I was a betting man, I would guess that general manager Ozzie Newsome has a move or two up his sleeve over the next couple of days, and there will be a couple of players who aren't on the Ravens roster right now that make the team's final 53-man.

Another factor that has drained some drama: the addition of two spots on each team's practice squad, which is now allowed to carry 10 players. Several of the Ravens' final cuts will find their way back to the organization, anyway. Practice squads can officially start forming by Sunday.

Not surprised by Jackson

The report out of Buffalo that the Ravens expressed interest in former Bills running back Fred Jackson isn't at all surprising. Signing Jackson would be a typical Newsome move, bringing in a veteran who is known as a high-character guy, a great teammate and who is motivated to win a Super Bowl and prove that he still has something left.

It's uncertain how long Taliaferro (sprained MCL) will be sidelined, but the Ravens have to be somewhat concerned about their depth behind Justin Forsett. Rookie fourth-round pick Buck Allen has looked fine in practice, but he's rushed for 78 yards on 29 carries in the preseason, an average of 2.7 yards per carry. He's looked tentative at times and he also lost a fumble just as he was about to get into the end zone last week against the Washington Redskins, something that Harbaugh won't tolerate. Taliaferro can remind Allen just how difficult it is for a rookie to regain the coaching staff's trust after losing a fumble.

Allen probably can't afford any miscues against the Falcons, or the organization will probably move quickly to add a veteran back to the roster. There are plenty available now, and many more figure to be looking for jobs in a couple of days.

What about Ball?

This is total speculation on my part, but you wonder if the Ravens have shown any interest in Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball, who is almost certainly available in a trade and could be on the waiver wire soon.

Ball, a 2013 second-round NFL draft pick, has been a huge disappointment for the Broncos and there have been reports that he might not make the team's 53-man roster. As much as Denver coach Gary Kubiak loves backs, Ball is fourth on the depth chart behind C.J. Anderson, Ronnie Hillman and Juwan Thompson.

It seems unlikely that two teams who play each other in less than two weeks would make a trade. However, the Ravens would have to at least be intrigued. Their running backs coach, Thomas Hammock, was Ball's position coach at Wisconsin.

What to do with Urban

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The Ravens not putting Urban (torn biceps) on season-ending injured reserve is an indication that they are strongly considering using the I.R. with a designation to return label on the second-year defensive end. The designation would allow Urban to resume practicing after six weeks and return to game action after eight.

But there are two issues that would arise if the Ravens made that decision. One, you can only use the designation on one player. So if they used it on Urban, they would not have it available if one of their front-line players goes down with a six-to-eight week type of injury earlier in the season. They'd either have to put that player on season-ending I.R. or they'd have to use one of their precious 53-man roster spots to carry him until he was ready to play.

Two, the Ravens would not be allowed to use that designation on Urban until Sept. 6, which is a day after their 53-man roster has to be set. So basically, they'd have to carry Urban on the 53-man at the expense of another player for at least a day.

On the pass rush

Obviously, defensive coordinator Dean Pees is going to call a vanilla defense in the preseason. There is no use giving anything away, especially with the familiarity Kubiak and the Broncos' coaching staff will already have with the Ravens defense.

But I think people would feel a bit better about the Ravens defense if they saw more of a pass rush in the preseason. Other than a couple of instances, the Ravens haven't been able to get to the quarterback at all this preseason. Now, I fully expect Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs to raise their games come Sept. 13, but do the Ravens have anybody else who can pressure the quarterback?

Courtney Upshaw -- who is a better pass rusher than given credit for, if you ask Ravens coaches -- didn't have a sack last year. Rookie fourth-round draft pick Za'Darius Smith is still pretty raw and that's shown in the preseason. Steven Means, a developmental pass rusher who the Ravens had high hopes for, is on season-ending I.R. with a groin injury.

Edge rushers are just not readily available in the NFL, so I'm not sure what Newsome could add in the coming days that would be a significant upgrade. But the Ravens better hope that Dumervil and Suggs stay healthy and there isn't a big drop off with the two vets, because it's tough to see their defense being very successful if it's not mounting a consistent pass rush.

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