With the Ravens completing final cuts to trim their roster to the maximum 53 players on Friday night, I offer a few thoughts below on the group general manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh, and the rest of the staff put together as the start of the regular season is only 10 days away.
As Harbaugh reminded reporters on Friday, the roster will remain fluid over the next few days as the Ravens survey the rest of the league for players who can potentially help them in areas of concern such as the pass rush and depth at safety. Players receiving the good news that they made the team on cut-down day will sometimes find themselves unemployed a day later when organizations come across waived players they feel would be a better fit on their roster.
“You know in this league it is very fluid – nothing is certain,” Harbaugh said. “Once you get past the first week, you go to the second week, and you see where we’re at.”
QUARTERBACKS (2): Joe Flacco, Tyrod Taylor
Thinking aloud: The decision to cut Curtis Painter was much more about using the roster spot elsewhere rather than an indictment on the former Indianapolis starter. If Flacco suffers an injury at some point during the season, the chances are good a quarterback with similar abilities to Painter’s will be available.
RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (4): Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce, Bobby Rainey, Vonta Leach
Thinking aloud: With Anthony Allen no longer on the roster, you have to wonder what the Ravens have in mind for short-yardage situations. I’m also intrigued with the possibilty of the offense using both Rice and Rainey at the same time in certain spots with one lined up in the slot and the other in the backfield.
WIDE RECEIVERS (6): Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, LaQuan Williams, Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson
Thinking aloud: This group still lacks a size receiver, but it’s tough to recall too many teams in franchise history having a trio of speedy receivers like Smith, Jones, and Thompson. There figures to be stiff competition among the three receivers rounding out the depth chart to determine who will be active on game days from week to week.
TIGHT ENDS (3): Ed Dickson, Dennis Pitta, Billy Bajema
Thinking aloud: Dickson and Pitta appear on track to being 100 percent for the season opener against Cincinnati, but you wonder how in synch they’ll be with Flacco initially. Bajema appears to have the combination of receiving and blocking skills to satisfy what the Ravens are looking for in their third tight end.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9): Matt Birk, Marshal Yanda, Bobbie Williams, Michael Oher, Bryant McKinnie, Kelechi Osemele, Gino Gradkowski, Jah Reid, Ramon Harewood
Thinking aloud: Harbaugh said Reid is moving closer to a return on Friday, which makes the decision to keep Harewood a little more perplexing when you consider the rookie Osemele is the third-best tackle on the team. You have to wonder how well the veterans holds up if the Ravens intend to run the fast-paced, no-huddle offense even nearly as often as they did in the preseason.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (7): Haloti Ngata, Terrence Cody, Arthur Jones, Pernell McPhee, Ma’ake Kemoeatu, Bryan Hall, DeAngelo Tyson
Thinking aloud: A unit that lost starter Cory Redding and key reserve Brandon McKinney suddenly looks deeper than it was a year ago with the emergence of the veteran Kemoeatu and the young additions Hall and Tyson. McPhee will likely play more than anyone anticipated due to the Ravens needing to keep as many pass-rushing options as possible on the field at all times.
LINEBACKERS (8): Ray Lewis, Jameel McClain, Paul Kruger, Albert McClellan, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Dannell Ellerbe, Courtney Upshaw, Sergio Kindle
Thinking aloud: The Ravens will scan the free-agent and trade markets carefully for another option at outside linebacker that can get after the quarterback. McClellan was one of the biggest surprises of the preseason, but the slow progress and health concerns for Upshaw have been extremely disappointing given how much the defense was counting on him to contribute immediately.
CORNERBACKS (7): Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams, Jimmy Smith, Corey Graham, Asa Jackson, Danny Gorrer, Chykie Brown
Thinking aloud: This is far and away the deepest unit on the team, and the Ravens will need even stronger coverage than what they received last year with not knowing how effective the pass rush will be without Terrell Suggs for at least the first six weeks of the regular season and very likely longer. Concerns were raised with the mediocre performance of Williams and Smith in the preseason, but both players were playing at a high level by the end of the 2011 season, which should give them the benefit of the doubt.
SAFETIES (4): Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard, Sean Considine, Christian Thompson
Thinking aloud: Depth is a major concern here as Considine is recovering from a concussion and wasn’t exactly looking like his career was trending in the right direction prior to signing in Baltimore. Thompson has little feel for pass coverage and is little more than a special-teams contributor at this time. The Ravens will look for additional depth if possibly and will pray Reed and Pollard will stay healthy in the mean time.
SPECIALISTS (3): Sam Koch, Morgan Cox, Justin Tucker
Thinking aloud: As impressive as Tucker has been, you wonder how he will respond to kicking in the regular season when the lights are brighter and the stakes higher. His mental approach is almost as impressive as his strong leg, and he has a pro in the veteran Koch to offer words of advice when necessary.