Saturday’s deadline arrived with the Ravens constructing their first official 53-man roster of the 2014 season in hopes of rebounding from the first non-playoff campaign of the John Harbaugh era a year ago.
Of course, the roster will remain fluid in the coming days as general manager Ozzie Newsome scans the open market for potential additions to enhance the talent already assembled. Baltimore will also construct a 10-player practice squad over the next few days with a number of players who were cut over the weekend potentially returning to the organization.
Here’s a look at the 53-man roster as it stood on Saturday evening with some early impressions:
QUARTERBACKS (2) — Joe Flacco, Tyrod Taylor
Analysis: The Ravens appear primed to go with only two quarterbacks for the fifth consecutive season after waiving rookie Keith Wenning on Saturday. The story will remain the same as it has for years in hoping the durable Joe Flacco continues his impressive streak of never missing a game as he enters his seventh season. Baltimore might be able to steal a win or two with Taylor at the helm in the event of a short-term injury to Flacco, but all hopes disappear if the Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player goes down for any significant period of time.
RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (4) — Bernard Pierce, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Justin Forsett, Kyle Juszczyk
SUSPENDED: Ray Rice (can return in Week 3)
Skinny: The return of Pierce to the practice field on Saturday brought relief, but the third-year back will need to hold up over the first two weeks of the season before Rice is eligible to return. Taliaferro is a fair bet to see an increased role in short-yardage situations as the season progresses while Forsett’s job will be in jeopardy by Week 3. Juszczyk led the team in receptions during the preseason and could be a surprise contributor as a receiver out of the backfield. It will be very interesting to see how new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak distributes carries throughout the season with Rice and Pierce both coming off poor seasons.
WIDE RECEIVERS (7) — Steve Smith, Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, Marlon Brown, Michael Campanaro, Deonte Thompson, Kamar Aiken
Analysis: The Ravens found room to keep the trio of Campanaro, Thompson, and Aiken, but seven receivers feels a bit excessive in a passing offense that regularly uses two tight ends and the fullback out of the backfield, making it possible this positional group is altered before the start of the season. The Smiths need to come up big if this offense is to make major improvement from last year’s abysmal ranking of 29th in the NFL. Brown didn’t have a great summer and won’t be counted on as much as he was last season, but his 6-foot-5 frame remains extremely appealing inside the red zone.
TIGHT ENDS (3) — Dennis Pitta, Crockett Gillmore, Owen Daniels
Analysis: This group looked more promising before training camp began, but Daniels has looked more like this year’s version of Dallas Clark than the difference-making tight end he was for years in Houston. Pitta is 100 percent, however, and should be in for a big year after a full offseason to regain his strength and explosiveness. The Ravens will trust Gillmore to handle blocking duties once reserved for former Raven Ed Dickson, but the third-round rookie was uneven during practices and preseason games. Pitta alone makes this an above-average group, but the Ravens need contributions from Daniels and Gillmore to make Kubiak’s offense function at a high level.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9) — Eugene Monroe, Kelechi Osemele, Jeremy Zuttah, Marshal Yanda, Rick Wagner, Gino Gradkowski, John Urschel, Jah Reid, James Hurst
Analysis: Even if you’re buying into the idea that Zuttah and Wagner will hold up adequately as starting members of the offensive line, the depth behind the starters remains suspect, especially at the interior positions. Significant offensive improvement begins and ends with this unit as offensive line coach Juan Castillo is counting on healthy versions of Osemele and Yanda as well as Monroe to do the heavy lifting. This group had its moments in the preseason, but the offensive line deserves scrutiny until it proves it can do the job on a weekly basis with three AFC North opponents waiting right off the bat. Hurst appeared very green early in the summer but improved as the weeks progressed, and the Ravens like his upside.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (5) — Haloti Ngata, Chris Canty, Brandon Williams, DeAngelo Tyson, Timmy Jernigan
INJURED: Terrence Cody (placed on the reserve physically unable to perform list and can’t return until Week 7)
Analysis: The season-ending injuries to Kapron Lewis-Moore and Brent Urban transformed the defensive line from a deep group to one with questions as the Ravens are only carrying five defensive linemen for the time being. Williams had a very strong preseason and could be a game-changer against the run, but Ngata and Canty will need to hold off Father Time for another season if the Ravens want to consistently control the line of scrimmage, something they struggled to do at times a year ago. This unit could stand to benefit from a veteran addition if Newsome finds someone that strikes his fancy.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS (6) — Daryl Smith, C.J. Mosley, Arthur Brown, Albert McClellan, Josh Bynes, Zachary Orr
Analysis: The depth at this position is exceptional with the 2013 second-round pick Brown and former starter Bynes serving as primary backups. The Ravens could try to deal from this position of strength to address other areas such as cornerback, but reserves such as McClellan and Bynes are also core special-teams players. If the first-round pick Mosley can be a game-changing linebacker next to Daryl Smith, the Ravens will have a pair of starting inside backers as good as nearly any in the league. Orr was a surprise to make the 53-man roster, but he appears vulnerable to be cut if other positional groups are addressed in the next couple days.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (4) — Elvis Dumervil, Terrell Suggs, Courtney Upshaw, Pernell McPhee
Analysis: Even if 2013 fourth-round pick John Simon was an obvious disappointment, his dismissal on Saturday speaks to how talented and deep this group is. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees needs Suggs and Dumervil to look like the disruptive pass-rushers they were in the first half of 2013 to help cover up a vulnerable secondary. Upshaw is solid against the run while McPhee will probably serve as more of a defensive lineman in the Ravens’ sub packages, but both are quality role players within the defense.
CORNERBACKS (4) — Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, Chykie Brown, Asa Jackson
Analysis: Seeing Webb, Smith, and Jackson back on the practice field Saturday was encouraging, but that doesn’t mean the top three cornerbacks will be 100 percent for the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 7. Jackson earned praise during training camp, but he’s also never played a defensive snap entering his third year in the NFL, and the maligned Brown struggled for much of the summer. In the pass-happy modern era of the NFL, you need three or four quality corners and only Webb and Smith are proven commodities at this point. It’s easier said than done, but Newsome really needs to add an established cornerback to the mix to prevent too many restless nights for Harbaugh and Pees.
SAFETIES (6) — Matt Elam, Darian Stewart, Terrence Brooks, Jeromy Miles, Anthony Levine, Brynden Trawick
SUSPENDED: Will Hill (can return in Week 7)
Analysis: Most attention has fallen on the cornerback position, but this position doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence, either. The Ravens hope Elam playing closer to the line of scrimmage will bring out his physicality, but he made few plays in training camp or during preseason games. Stewart is the starting free safety for now, but it only appears to be a matter of time before the third-round rookie Brooks gets his chance after he made major strides over the final couple weeks of the summer. Keeping the trio of Miles, Levine, and Trawick appears to be a bit much, but Levine’s ability to play cornerback makes him stand out a bit more than the others. Newsome stated an offseason goal of finding a game-changing safety, but there weren’t any signs of that being a reality this summer.
SPECIALISTS (3) — Sam Koch, Morgan Cox, Justin Tucker
Analsysis: Tucker might be the best kicker in the NFL while Koch appeared to have a strong enough summer to quell concerns about an underwhelming 2013 campaign and a high salary cap figure. The long snapper Cox quietly does his job as well as anyone every year.