From Jaleel Scott’s emphatic closing argument to the continuing mess at left guard, here are five things we learned from the Ravens’ preseason win over the Washington Redskins.
Jaleel Scott made an emphatic case for sticking with the Ravens.
The back end of the team’s receiving corps was hardly set going into Thursday’s preseason finale, and coach John Harbaugh gave Scott and rookie Antoine Wesley ample chances to make closing arguments.
Scott, in his second year out of New Mexico State, was thought to pose one of the Ravens’ most difficult roster decisions. Coaches are enamored with his 6-foot-5 frame and downfield speed, which he demonstrated against the Redskins. He’s been one of the team’s most productive pass catchers this preseason. But it’s not clear the Ravens want to carry six wide receivers, which they’d probably have to do if they keep Scott.
Roster pinch aside, can they afford to give up on a second-year player with real upside as a downfield threat? Scott caught six passes for 87 yards and a touchdown as Trace McSorley’s favorite target Thursday, and he’s also helped himself by contributing on special teams.
“Pretty much every game has been a good game for him,” Harbaugh said in a clear vote of confidence.
Wesley came out of Texas Tech with elite stats but without the speed or quickness to excite NFL scouts. He stood out early in offseason workouts for the Ravens, but made less of an impression when confronted with the greater speed and intensity of training camp practices. He didn’t exactly change the narrative Thursday, dropping a potential touchdown on a broken play in the third quarter. Wesley has little chance to make the 53-man roster, but seems an obvious candidate for the team’s practice squad after final cuts.
Harbaugh opted against playing veterans Seth Roberts and Michael Floyd, who was cut Friday, against the Redskins. The Ravens must trim their roster to 53 by Saturday’s 4 p.m. deadline.
Roberts probably played himself onto the team before an undisclosed injury cost him two weeks of the preseason. He returned to practice last weekend, and Harbaugh praised his form Tuesday. Roberts’ track record as a reliable possession receiver makes him a useful piece for an offense that will rely on two rookie wide receivers in Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and Miles Boykin.
The Ravens did not use Brown at wide receiver Thursday, but did try their first-round draft pick as a punt returner. That experiment went poorly as Brown muffed two catches in the first quarter. So much for any thought that the Ravens could get by without either Cyrus Jones or Tyler Ervin as an experienced returner.
Beyond four obvious starters, we still have little idea how the Ravens will fill out their offensive line.
Ravens coaches have spent the entire summer hoping for someone, anyone, to take a definitive step forward at left guard. With no preseason games remaining, that has not happened.
A day after the Ravens traded Jermaine Eluemunor to the New England Patriots, they started rookie Ben Powers at their most unsettled position.
But that doesn’t necessarily tell us Powers will line up against the Miami Dolphins for the Sept. 8 season opener. The fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma did not help himself with two holding penalties against the Redskins, part of a sloppy overall performance by the Ravens’ young blockers.
The Ravens started another pair of left-guard candidates, Patrick Mekari and Bradley Bozeman, at center and right guard, respectively. Mekari has made a solid case to stick on the roster as an undrafted free agent, and Bozeman played 214 snaps as a rookie last season. Both would make handy reserves because of their versatility.
As he sorts out the mess at left guard, Harbaugh could go with veteran James Hurst, who didn’t play Thursday but has proven himself adequate at both guard and tackle spots.
The bottom line is if any of these guys had blown the coaching staff away this summer, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. The Ravens hoped Eluemunor would seize the left-guard spot, but he so underwhelmed coaches with his lack of conditioning and toughness that they shipped him out of town instead.
In the broader battle for offensive-line jobs, second-year tackle Greg Senat also had a rough night. He was called for two holding penalties against the Redskins, continuing an error-filled preseason. The Ravens see raw potential in the 6-foot-6 Senat, and they might carry nine offensive linemen given their lack of reliable backups. But he seems the least likely bubble candidate to help them in the short term.
John Harbaugh sent messages by starting several projected regulars, including Orlando Brown Jr. and Willie Henry.
Harbaugh said he would sit players with nothing left to prove this preseason. So it was interesting to see him start two players expected to give the team significant production in 2019.
Henry, who was cut Friday, was viewed as the team’s most promising interior pass rusher going into training camp, and he seemed thrilled to hit the field after his 2018 season was cut short by a back injury. But he left little mark on the stat sheet in the Ravens’ first three preseason games, even as fellow defensive tackle Patrick Ricard made a compelling case for more playing time. That negative trend continued against the Redskins, as Henry finished with just one assisted tackle despite playing the entire game.
Brown, the team’s starting right tackle, has played catch-up since he failed the Ravens’ conditioning test at the beginning of training camp. Harbaugh has worked him hard in preseason games, sending the message that Brown can’t take his status for granted, even though he’s a significant figure in the team’s future plans.
Brown has not pouted, treating his assignments as natural steps in his evolution. We saw him rise to the challenge when he became a starter in Week 7 last year, and there’s no reason to believe he’ll take a step back in his second season.
The Ravens head to the regular season wrestling with the same issues we perceived at the start of camp.
Five weeks ago, we wondered if the Ravens would find a pass rusher to mitigate the losses of Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith and if they’d assemble enough quality offensive linemen to protect their most precious asset, second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson.
With a little more than a week to go before the regular season, those questions remain.
The Ravens have to feel pleased with Jackson’s progress as a passer and team leader. He only played the first two preseason games but excelled in both and threw far more consistently in practice than he did at any point last year.
Beyond the problems posed by their quarterback, the Ravens will be difficult to play because of their multifaceted backfield and their waves of quality defensive backs.
They have reason to be optimistic about young playmakers such as tight end Mark Andrews, wide receivers Brown and Boykin and running back Justice Hill. They even found another useful quarterback in McSorley.
But so much of the modern game comes down to protecting your quarterback and pressuring his opposite number. Can the Ravens do either well enough to defend their AFC North crown? After four preseason games, we just don’t know.