Over the course of the NFL’s longest preseason, the Ravens played five games, held four joint training camp practices and had exactly zero quarterback controversies. After the preseason finale Thursday night, coach John Harbaugh beamed. The team, he said, had “played the kind of football that we wanted them to play.”
The coming roster decisions would be tough, but at least the Ravens could be comfortable with them. When the team’s 53-man roster was finalized Saturday afternoon, two of the most asked-about questions at team headquarters had been answered. Quarterback Robert Griffin III had done enough. Wide receiver Breshad Perriman had not.
But there’s still much unknown about the roster, which evolved further Sunday with the addition of eight former Ravens to the team’s practice squad. Here’s what’s worth keeping an eye on as the Ravens prepare for Sunday’s season opener against the Buffalo Bills.
1. What will the Ravens’ quarterback depth chart look like?
Harbaugh said last month that Griffin had been performing at a “starting-caliber level.” The former Washington Redskins star finished the preseason 22-for-38 (57.9 percent) for 313 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, along with five rushes for 40 yards.
After a slow start over the Ravens’ first three games, Jackson came on strong in his final two appearances, ending the preseason 34-for-68 (50 percent) for 408 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He was also third on the Ravens in rushing with 23 carries for 136 yards and a team-high three touchdowns.
Griffin has started 40 games in his up-and-down NFL career, but he has not been in the Ravens’ system for an appreciably longer time. He signed with the team April 4; Jackson was drafted April 26.
Of course, the question of who opens the Ravens’ season as Flacco’s backup might ultimately prove inconsequential. Flacco has started all 16 games in all but one of his 10 NFL seasons. If Griffin is named No. 2, Jackson still might get to play in exotic trick-play packages. If Jackson is named No. 2, the Ravens still might decide Griffin’s the better fit for the 46-man game day roster, depending on the circumstances.
2. How will the Ravens address their offensive line, if at all?
One sure-fire way to stir up debate about the merits of a team’s backup quarterbacks: have a leaky offensive line in front of them.
The Ravens’ 53-man roster offered no clarity on the team’s five starting linemen, only who can fill those roles. At three spots, the No. 1 option appears clear: Ronnie Stanley at left tackle, Marshal Yanda at right guard and rookie Orlando Brown Jr. at right tackle. At left guard and center, it’s less certain.
Yanda, who has said he expects to be ready for Week 1, returned from offseason surgery to participate in preseason practices but did not play in any games. That rejiggered the Ravens’ interior line. In the team’s final preseason game featuring mainly first-stringers, Alex Lewis started at left guard, Matt Skura at center and James Hurst at right guard.
Of the three, Lewis is the most likely season-opening starter. Healthy for all of training camp after a torn labrum ended his season in August 2017, he was named to the Pro Football Focus Team of the Week after a strong showing against the Miami Dolphins last month.
Hurst made all but one of his 16 starts last season at left guard, proving a more natural fit there than at right tackle, where he struggled early in his Ravens career. With Ryan Jensen’s departure in free agency, Hurst shared some repetitions at center in training camp with Skura, who played the position in college and started 12 games at right guard for the Ravens last year.
One of the two likely will join center-guard Bradley Bozeman and guard-tackle Jermaine Eluemunor on the bench. Because neither is a true tackle, Hurst could move outside again if Stanley or Brown gets hurt or struggles.
3. Who gets left off the 46-man game day roster?
Over the past week, the Ravens have trimmed their roster from 90 players to 89 to 71 to, finally, 53. The suspension of cornerback Jimmy Smith, trade of outside linebacker Kamalei Correa and significant injuries to players such as rookie safety DeShon Elliott and cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste made some choices easy.
The team’s season-opening, 46-man game day roster will not be another one.
While the Ravens decided to keep three quarterbacks on their roster, supply and demand suggest that they’ll dress only two against the Bills. Will it be the more dynamic Jackson or the more game-ready Griffin?
At wide receiver, if the Ravens feel they have more pressing needs elsewhere, would they hesitate to sit Janarion Grant and task Chris Moore with the rookie’s returner duties?
Smith’s four-game ban makes cornerback another position to watch. With Maurice Canady limited somewhat by injuries late in preseason, would the Ravens feel comfortable dressing only five corners? Or would they count on undrafted rookie Darious Williams being able to help out Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, Anthony Averett, Tavon Young and Canady?