Ravens head coach John Harbaugh talks about the players that improve their chances of making the 53-man roster.
The Ravens held their first full-team training camp practice July 25, and everything in the month-plus since — thousands of snaps, 15 training camp practices, four preseason games, two sets of joint practices — has made their looming roster decisions easier. Or at least more informed.
Ahead of an eventual 20-7 win Thursday night against the Washington Redskins, general manager Eric DeCosta and coach John Harbaugh knew most of the important stuff. That their starting quarterback, Lamar Jackson, looks the part of an NFL passer. That their defense should again be one of the NFL’s stingiest.
But as the Ravens pushed toward their 17th straight preseason win and fourth straight undefeated preseason, there were still jobs on the margins to win (or lose) at FedEx Field. The deadline for 53-man-roster cuts is 4 p.m. Saturday, and 60 minutes of football, no matter the quality, would be enough to pop a bubble or extend a career.
In a game largely devoid of starters, the most closely watched Ravens position Thursday was far from the sexiest. But if a preseason of wondering aloud, “Who’s gonna start at left guard?” didn’t get the attention of the team’s contenders, Wednesday night’s roster move certainly did. With the Ravens’ trade of Jermaine Eluemunor and a sixth-round draft pick to the New England Patriots for a fourth-round selection, the team cleared the path for a new starter in Landover.
For the first half, it was rookie Ben Powers, a fourth-round pick whose stock has risen and fallen over late July and August. Bradley Bozeman started at right guard, while Patrick Mekari, another contender, was at center; the two switched positions in the second quarter. If the health of the Ravens’ first-half running game was any indication of Powers’ performance, he might indeed be the favorite: They finished with 73 yards on 15 carries.
The intrigue at wide receiver, meanwhile, continued to swirl. On Tuesday, Harbaugh said the staff still hadn’t whether Seth Roberts, a standout early in camp, would play. He attributed the uncertainty partly to the free-agent signing’s health; after two weeks out with an undisclosed injury, he’d returned to practice only Saturday.
But Roberts didn’t dress for Thursday’s game, a promising sign for his roster chances. Also absent, though, was Michael Floyd, who stood out last week against the Philadelphia Eagles after not being targeted often in the Ravens’ first two preseason games.
“He’s had a heck of a career and obviously he’s still got a lot left,” Harbaugh said Thursday, after Floyd had three catches for 54 yards and a touchdown in Philadelphia. “He’s in the running. He’s got to be in the conversation with those other guys the way that he’s played.”
Perhaps unfortunately for Floyd, his top competition for a possible sixth receiver spot had maybe the top receiving performance of the Ravens preseason. Jaleel Scott had five catches on nine targets for 78 yards, including a go-ahead touchdown, in little more than a half of work. With Chris Moore and rookie Miles Boykin sitting out Thursday’s game, Scott finished the preseason as the team’s leading receiver.
Elsewhere on offense, Ravens rose and fell. Rookie quarterback Trace McSorley finished 15-for-27 for 171 yards and the touchdown to Scott. Running back Kenneth Dixon, who entered the game on the outside of most roster projections, had 10 carries for 48 yards. Offensive tackle Greg Senat had two holding penalties, both of which negated first-down plays. Rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown, in his only snaps, muffed the two punts kicked his way, though he recovered both.
There is seemingly less mystery on the defensive side of the ball, but the Ravens who did play again lived up to the unit’s reputation. They held the Redskins and top draft pick Dwayne Haskins Jr. to 136 yards in the first half and 180 overall. As the second half wore on, so did the roster competition. Outside linebacker Shane Ray was still playing, joined by defensive end Zach Sieler, insider linebacker Otaro Alaka, cornerbacks Justin Bethel and Maurice Canady and safety Brynden Trawick.
They did enough to win the game, because that’s what the Ravens do in August. A blocked punt by linebacker Donald Payne late in the fourth quarter set up a touchdown run by running back De’Lance Turner that put the game away. But there were only so many roster spots, and only so much time to win one.