In the Ravens’ preseason finale last month, something funny happened. Tim White, a wide receiver and returner by trade, a second-year NFL player who had last lined up on defense in high school, played defensive back for a few snaps late in the Ravens’ 30-20 win over the Washington Redskins.
It was funny because of the novelty of it all — wasn’t part-time defensive lineman, part-time fullback Patrick Ricard the team’s two-way handyman? It was funny because where else but in a preseason game would one player at a so-called skill position try his hand at another?
“Coach [John] Harbaugh just came up to me, and he was like, ‘Would you want to play nickel if we put you there?’ ” White, now on the team’s practice squad, said after the game. “I was like, ‘Yeah, of course.’ I just went out there and played. It was like backyard football.”
On Friday, the Ravens (1-1) moved perilously closer to the kind of defensive emergency that necessitated White’s temporary change of address. White had been called on last month because the team had dressed just six defensive backs for the game, then lost cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste to a season-ending arm injury.
With Jimmy Smith already sidelined by a four-game NFL suspension for a violation of the league’s personal conduct policy and Maurice Canady (thigh) now on injured reserve, rookie cornerback Anthony Averett was ruled out of Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos (2-0) with a hamstring injury. That leaves the Ravens with just four active corners, only three of whom have significant NFL experience.
Brandon Carr is expected to make his 163rd consecutive start this weekend at M&T Bank Stadium. Marlon Humphrey and Tavon Young, who followed standout season openers with forgettable nights against Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green in Week 2, should join him.
Then there’s Darious Williams, an undrafted rookie from Alabama-Birmingham whose inclusion on the Ravens’ initial 53-man roster was a minor surprise. On Thursday, defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said Williams was learning how to play the NFL game, and he’d have to be ready if called upon.
A day later, Harbaugh repeated a question about Williams, as if he hadn’t given his play too much thought. He could be forgiven: In two games, Williams has played one snap. It came on special teams.
“He’s a good player,” Harbaugh said. “He has quick feet; he has really good body control and good hands. I think he has the ability to stick to a receiver; that’s a natural thing.” At that moment, Williams walked past the media throng surrounding Harbaugh. “We’re talking about you, buddy! It’s all good.” Williams grinned and gave Harbaugh a thumbs up. “He has a great smile, as you can see.”
The Ravens have options on the practice squad, but perhaps not the promotion they would have most preferred. On Wednesday, the New England Patriots signed cornerback-returner Cyrus Jones off the Ravens practice squad and to a reported two-year deal. The former Gilman standout and second-round pick missed all of last season with a knee injury and didn’t make the Patriots’ initial 53-man roster, but as a rookie he appeared in 10 games and played 147 defensive snaps.
In his absence, the Ravens signed to their practice squad Makinton Dorleant, like Jones a third-year cornerback. The former Maryland transfer also missed all of last season, but in his rookie season with the Green Bay Packers, he played just five defensive snaps. If activated for Sunday’s game, he could exceed that in the first quarter.
Among the team’s defensive backs, the Ravens also have practice squad cornerback Robertson Daniel (one game of NFL experience) and backup safeties Anthony Levine Sr. and Chuck Clark. White, as he was against Washington, would be a use-only-in-case-of-emergency last resort.
Broncos quarterback Case Keenum has not set the world on fire in wins over the Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders: 59.5 percent completion rate, 551 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. But he’s not getting paid $18 million a year for nothing, as Martindale reminded the media Thursday.
“They don’t want him to be game manager, which he has not been,” he said. “In the first two games, he’s won them the game. So he’s just going to be another difficult foe that we have to go against.”
After a preseason in which the Ravens defense largely avoided worrisome injuries — defensive tackle Willie Henry’s surgery to repair an umbilical hernia being the exception — the injury bug has resurfaced in Baltimore of late, as much a nuisance as fall allergies.
Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, who was limited in practice Thursday, did not participate Friday and is questionable for Sunday. A bone bruise on his knee could force him to miss just the third game of his career.
Also questionable are outside linebacker Matthew Judon (hamstring), a full participant Friday after limited practices each of the previous two days, and defensive tackle Michael Pierce, who missed every practice this week.
All of which presents a possible nightmare scenario for the Ravens. Smith, when healthy, is the team’s top cornerback and perhaps its top defensive back. Mosley is a three-time Pro Bowl linebacker and their defensive quarterback. Pierce has been the team’s highest-graded defensive lineman through the preseason and two regular-season games. It’s not inconceivable that the Ravens could be without all three Sunday.
“All eyes, all of our attention, is pointed toward Sunday at 1 p.m.,” Harbaugh said Friday, before the team released its injury report. “We have a lot of preparation still to do, but we have a lot under our belt. Tough opponent coming in, big challenge, important game, and we hope to be at our best on Sunday.”
That would have to be a relative evaluation. They certainly will not be at their healthiest. Far from it.