The Ravens’ injury woes reached new depths Thursday, as cornerback Marcus Peters and running back Gus Edwards each tore their ACL at practice, becoming the team’s fourth and fifth players to suffer season-ending injuries in the past 19 days.
Peters, a three-time All-Pro, was one of the team’s top defensive players throughout training camp. Edwards, set for a breakout season, was expected to start Monday’s opener against the Las Vegas Raiders.
The Ravens, who were not practicing in pads, cut short the workout after the injuries. Over the past three weeks, the team had lost starting running back J.K. Dobbins (knee) and reserve Justice Hill (Achilles tendon) to season-ending injuries, along with inside linebacker L.J. Fort (knee).
“Praying for my Brotherz man,” wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown tweeted. “Gotta cherish every day when you out there.”
“Not fair man,” inside linebacker Patrick Queen tweeted.
The two injuries represent the biggest blow yet to the team’s Super Bowl hopes and the latest in a string of painful absences. The Ravens practiced Thursday without rookie wide receiver and top draft pick Rashod Bateman, who’s out until at least Week 4 with a groin injury; wide receiver Miles Boykin, who’s been limited for over a month by a hamstring injury; starting tight end Nick Boyle, who missed the preseason while recovering from a minor knee operation; starting defensive end Derek Wolfe, who’s been out for two-plus weeks with a back injury; and Dobbins, Hill and Fort.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson also missed the first 10 days of camp after testing positive for the coronavirus, and minor injuries waylaid starting receivers Sammy Watkins and Brown throughout August.
Just hours before he went down in practice, Peters was upbeat and reflective as he talked about his appreciation for the Ravens’ culture and his optimism for the season ahead. He said he was happy to see the offense surrounding Jackson with “the right pieces around him.”
“We lost J.K. — it’s going to hurt us — but Gus is going to be able to pick it back up,” he said. “We’re going to get on the bus, and we’re going to ride it.”
Now the Ravens will have to find a replacement for both. Edwards, one of the NFL’s most efficient runners since he emerged as an undrafted rookie three years ago, signed a two-year, $10 million extension through 2023 in June that gave the Ravens one of the NFL’s most talented backfields.
With Dobbins tearing his ACL in the team’s preseason finale last month, and Hill his Achilles tendon five days later, Ty’Son Williams is now atop the depth chart. Williams, who tore his ACL at BYU in 2019, spent most of his rookie season last year on the practice squad and does not have an NFL carry. Dobbins and Edwards combined last season for 278, finishing with 1,528 rushing yards (5.5 per attempt).
Behind Williams are three running backs who weren’t even on the team days ago. Trenton Cannon, a special teams contributor throughout his career, joined the 53-man roster Wednesday. Le’Veon Bell, a three-time All-Pro who has struggled to recover his old form in recent seasons with the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs, signed with the practice squad Wednesday. And Devonta Freeman, a two-time Pro Bowl selection whom the New Orleans Saints released last month, signed with the practice squad Thursday.
Peters, meanwhile, was among the Ravens’ most irreplaceable players. He’s missed just two games since arriving in an October 2019 trade from the Los Angeles Rams. He was named first-team All-Pro that season, when he had a combined five interceptions and two defensive touchdowns. Last year, he had a career-high four forced fumbles and four interceptions. Since he entered the league in 2015, he leads the NFL in interceptions (31) and is second in passes defended (86).
With Peters out, the Ravens will likely turn to Anthony Averett opposite starter Marlon Humphrey at outside cornerback. The secondary is a strength of the team; defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said last month that Averett, who’s in the final year of his rookie contract, has “All-Pro talent.” Jimmy Smith, who’s recovering from a sprained ankle, was one of the NFL’s highest-rated cornerbacks last year before injuries struck in November. Chris Westry, who fits the team’s mold of big, physical cornerbacks, was a training camp standout.
Coach John Harbaugh is scheduled to speak to reporters Friday. When The Baltimore Sun asked team president Dick Cass this week about the Ravens’ rash of camp injuries, he said the franchise would examine them in the coming weeks and make changes for 2022 “if needed.”
“I think the one thing that hurt us this year was not having a full spring training,” he said. “We didn’t have as many veterans as we usually do in the spring partly because of the COVID-19 restrictions and the decisions individual players made. I think that may have had an impact. That’s something we will look at as well.”
The Ravens have just two days of practice to prepare for Las Vegas with maybe their two greatest strengths compromised. Under Jackson and coordinator Greg Roman, their offense has turned into one of the most dominant rushing attacks in NFL history. Now injuries at the running back position could reveal just how far Jackson’s legs — or the threat of them — can power the team’s ground game.
On defense, the loss of Peters, one of the NFL’s top cover cornerbacks, could test coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale’s willingness to rely on man-to-man coverage, which enables so many of his blitz schemes.
The Ravens entered the preseason with championship dreams. They didn’t expect to face these questions before ever playing a down in Week 1. Now injuries have made them unavoidable.
Baltimore Ravens Insider
“That’s part of the game, and that’s what happens,” defensive back-linebacker Anthony Levine Sr. said last month. “You don’t ever want to see anybody go down with injuries or anything like that. ... When injury happens, and the next guy is up, that’s when you have to seize your opportunity. Nobody wants to see anyone go down. We all are brothers at the end of the day, but it’s also our job. You have to be able to overcome that.”
Monday, 8:15 p.m.
TV: ESPN, Chs. 2, 7
Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM