WESTFIELD, IND. — With a day off Sunday and a “Monday Night Football” game on tap, Ravens coach John Harbaugh has gotten his wish: The focus has shifted from the fights that marred Saturday’s joint practice against the Indianapolis Colts.
Only now it’s moved to the team’s roster fights.
With the workload for both teams’ starters expected to increase, if only slightly, at Lucas Oil Stadium, players further down the depth chart will spend more time Monday standing on the sideline. That creates a “Good news, bad news” proposition for the organization.
The good news: The Ravens are so healthy, their coaches will have their pick of whom to play as second- and third-stringers. The bad news: The Ravens are so healthy, some won’t get the playing time they’d need to make an impression on national television.
As the team goes for its 11th straight preseason win, here’s what’s worth watching as the Ravens face the Colts in Indianapolis’ first year under former Maryland quarterback and Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich.
1. How much will Ravens starters play, and how will they fare?
The Ravens’ last preseason game was never a fair fight. In their 33-7 win over the visiting Rams on Aug. 9 — the Ravens’ second preseason game and Los Angeles’ first — the Ravens were efficient with their first-string offense and suffocating with their first- and second-string defense.
In quarterback Joe Flacco’s first and only drive, the Ravens covered 70 yards and found the end zone in less than five minutes against a Rams defense that put out only one player among its regular starters. On defense, the Ravens held a Los Angeles offense sitting stars such as Todd Gurley and Jared Goff to 7 yards or fewer on six of the team’s first nine drives.
Monday should pose a different test. Reich and Harbaugh did not indicate how much they expect their starters to play, but teams typically ramp up first-teamers’ snaps through the penultimate week of the preseason. Indianapolis finished third-to-last in both scoring offense and scoring defense in the NFL last season, but with Andrew Luck healthy and throwing well, the Ravens should be better challenged on at least one side of the ball.
2. Which position battles will start to sort themselves out?
The Ravens still have three games to play over the final two weeks of their preseason schedule before the NFL’s Sept. 1 deadline for 53-man rosters. That’s a lot of tape to consider at a lot of positions.
At tight end, the Ravens have a pair of early-round picks (Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews), a pair of veterans with recent starting experience (Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams) and three unofficial fourth-stringers worth considering for at least a spot on the practice squad (Vince Mayle, Nick Keizer and Darren Waller).
The departure of Benjamin Watson has done nothing to ease the logjam at the position, and the Ravens will find it hard to part with three players if they keep only four on their initial 53-man roster, as they did last year.
Other roster squeezes could keep notable veterans off the team. Linebacker and special teams standout Albert McClellan missed all of last season with an ACL tear, and, at 32, he would be a graybeard on a relatively young linebacking corps.
On offense, wide receiver Breshad Perriman stood out in the win over the Rams, but the former first-round pick saw the field only after halftime. Quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Kenneth Dixon could also be victims of a numbers game.
3. Will any residual bad blood resurface?
The players involved in the more punchy parts of Saturday’s practice were, for the most part, among those fighting for a roster spot. There’s a reason Flacco came over after the teams’ first brawl to watch for a potential second fight, not to participate.
Most players know better than to throw haymakers. If they don’t, their coaches will have reminded them by Monday night. “We're football players, said Reich, who added after the practice that Harbaugh’s sentiments mirrored his own. “We're professional football players. We're not fighters. We're not in the MMA. We're not in the cage. We know it's unacceptable.”
But if the Ravens handle the Colts as easily as they did the Rams, stay tuned to the ESPN broadcast, even late. It wasn’t until the final hour or so of the second day of joint practices this weekend that the teams deviated from their good behavior. With the pressure to make the roster intensifying for backups with each unimpressive repetition, frustration can boil over in interesting ways.