"There's a lot of expectations being the starting defense, and every time I go out there, I try to hold myself to those standards," said defensive end Brent Urban. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
Brent Urban's debut could have gone better, but perhaps not by much.
In his first game as the Ravens' projected starting defensive end, Urban produced a sack, nearly had another, forced two fumbles, and contributed to a tackle for loss in Thursday night's preseason opener against the Washington Redskins at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
"I was just trying to get off the ball, be physical, and finish each play," he said. "I was focused on making plays when they came my way, and I think we did a great job as a whole out there."
The 6-foot-7, 300-pound Urban appeared to be in Washington's backfield as often as quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy.
Urban made his presence known early. He nearly sacked Cousins on the third play of the game, but safety Anthony Levine Sr. got to Cousins first. On the Ravens' next defensive series, Urban was the first one to temporarily stop running back Rob Kelley before nose tackle Michael Pierce polished off the tackle for 4-yard loss on third-and-1 at the Redskins' 12.
On Washington's final offensive possession of the first quarter, Urban sacked McCoy for a 1-yard loss and stripped him before the quarterback recovered the ball himself. Nine plays later, Urban impeded running back Samaje Perine behind the line of scrimmage and forced another fumble recovered by the rookie.
It was quite a performance for an oft-injured player, who had 10 tackles, two sacks, and two batted passes last season and is expected to fill the void created by the free-agent departure of Lawrence Guy (28 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery).
"It was a lot of fun getting out there and not beating up on each other in practice," Urban said. "I really enjoyed playing another opponent where I could actually get after the quarterback and hit guys."
The good news for the special teams is that rookie Tim White fared decently in his debut as the punt returner. The undrafted free agent from Arizona State returned one punt for 9 yards and fair-caught another without any problem.
And kicker Justin Tucker made amends for a 43-yard field-goal attempt that banged off the left upright in the first quarter (the play was negated by an illegal-formation penalty on defensive end Stacy McGee) by converting field goals of 37 and 59 yards — the latter as time in the second quarter expired — to give the Ravens a 13-0 advantage at halftime.
The bad news is that the unit still has some fine-tuning to do. Cornerback Robertson Daniel and rookie linebacker Bam Bradley were flagged for holding in the first half, and defensive tackle Willie Henry was also called for holding in the third quarter.
The team opened the preseason without its top three wide receivers in Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin and Breshad Perriman, who has not practiced since Aug. 8 because of right hamstring tightness. Wideout Kenny Bell (hamstring) also did not play.
The offense played without four offensive linemen: right guard Marshal Yanda (offseason left shoulder surgery), left guard Alex Lewis (unspecified), right tackle Austin Howard (undisclosed) and rookie guard Nico Sirgusa (torn ACL, MCL, and PCL in left knee). Quarterback Joe Flacco (back) and running back Kenneth Dixon (torn meniscus in left knee) were also absent.
The defense did not have three cornerbacks: Maurice Canady (torn cartilage in knee), rookie Marlon Humphrey (unspecified) and Sheldon Price (undisclosed).
In addition to Wallace and Maclin, three other players who are healthy but did not play are tight end Benjamin Watson, running back Danny Woodhead and inside linebacker Lamar Louis.
Needing some salary cap flexibility after signing offensive tackle Austin Howard to a three-year, $15.025 million deal last week, the Ravens restructured the contract of veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith for the second year in a row.
According to NFLPA records, Smith's base salary for 2017 went from $8.5 million to $775,000. The $7.7 million difference was converted into a signing bonus. The move, which inflates Smith's salary cap number even more over the final two years of his deal, immediately creates $5.15 million of cap space for the Ravens.
Before the restructure, the Ravens had the least amount of salary cap space in the league, per the NFLPA's salary cap report. The agreement with Smith leaves them with about $10 million of space, according to the NFLPA. ESPN first reported Smith's restructure.
Rookie cornerback Jaylen Hill secured the defense's first takeaway when he jumped to intercept a pass thrown by McCoy intended for rookie wide receiver Robert Davis with 16 seconds left in the second quarter. That play set up Tucker's 59-yard field goal. … Former Ravens wide receiver-return specialist Jacoby Jones and Archbishop Spalding graduate and San Antonio Spurs small forward Rudy Gay attended the game. … Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, strong safety Eric Weddle and quarterback Ryan Mallettrepresented the Ravens for the coin toss.
Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.