The Ravens are set to begin their 22nd preseason after one of the more tumultuous starts to training camp in team history.
Having already lost seven players to season-ending injuries, retirement, or suspension since the beginning of June, Baltimore is still without starting quarterback Joe Flacco while other impact players have missed substantial time in camp. The injuries create a balancing act between keeping valuable assets out of harm’s way and the desire to take advantage of live-game reps against Washington on Thursday night.
“We’ll work it out as we go. We’ll see,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “Some guys will play, some guys won’t. You just have to play it by ear. We have a plan, but I’m just not really into it right now as far as sharing it. It can change. We have a plan until the shooting starts; then plans change.”
Especially with Flacco unavailable, the Ravens will likely focus on the evaluation of their running game after hiring senior offensive assistant Greg Roman in the offseason to revamp the league’s 28th-ranked rushing attack in the offseason. Of course, that could prove to be difficult with an offensive line that’s currently less than 100 percent.
The final result means little, but the first preseason game provides context for evaluating players who’ve only been practicing against each another to this point. The coaching staff will eagerly be watching how young players respond to the bright lights of a game after settling into the familiar routine of camp workouts.
“They are ready to go play against somebody else, and they have been playing against each other now for almost two weeks,” Harbaugh said. “These are pretty tough practices and tough drills. They know each other pretty well right now, so they are ready to get in that environment and play a game and cut it loose a little bit and see where they are.”
Thursday marks the 10th time these NFL neighbors have met in the preseason with the Ravens holding the 6-3 edge over Washington, but the Redskins won a 16-10 regular-season contest at M&T Bank Stadium last October, which prompted the firing of offensive coordinator Marc Trestman the next day.
Baltimore has a 24-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh.
Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report
The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess on what the injury report would look like if one were to be released ahead of Thursday night’s game.
Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will remain in question. Of course, this list does not consider any veteran players who could be held out of the preseason opener due to the coaching staff’s preference.
Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:
OUT: QB Joe Flacco (back), OT Austin Howard (shoulder), WR Breshad Perriman (hamstring), WR Kenny Bell (hamstring), CB Sheldon Price (undisclosed), CB Maurice Canady (knee), RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), OL Nico Siragusa (knee), CB Tavon Young (knee)
DOUBTFUL: OL Alex Lewis (undisclosed), CB Marlon Humphrey (undisclosed)
QUESTIONABLE: G Marshal Yanda (shoulder), WR Chris Matthews (undisclosed), CB Brandon Boykin (undisclosed)
Five players to watch Thursday night
QB Ryan Mallett
Expectations should be realistic for a backup, but the Ravens wasted no time re-signing Mallett to a one-year, $2 million contract at the start of free agency, suggesting they have some level of confidence in him to be a suitable No. 2 option. His first few practices of training camp were brutal, but the 29-year-old has rebounded to play at a more acceptable level in recent days, perhaps a product of the Colin Kaepernick discussion dying down. With Flacco’s return still expected to be sooner than later, Mallett showing command of the offense with at least some modest production should quell some concerns.
OLB Matt Judon
Used as a situational pass rusher as a rookie, Judon has received most of the summer reps as the starting strong-side outside linebacker, a spot shared by Albert McClellan and Elvis Dumervil last season. In order to be more effective in pass coverage, the 2016 fifth-round pick dropped weight and is strikingly leaner while still showing enough strength to set the edge and rush the passer. Judon ranked third on the team with four sacks in 2016, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees would prefer to see him double that total as the Ravens try to turn the heat up on a pass rush that was underwhelming a year ago.
C Ryan Jensen
The Ravens traded veteran starter Jeremy Zuttah in the offseason, but the sudden retirement of John Urschel at the start of training camp short-circuited the expected competition at center and left Jensen as the default starter. He brings the size and physicality that should work better in Roman’s downhill blocking schemes, but Jensen has only nine career starts under his belt, prompting many to continue clamoring for a Nick Mangold signing. General manager Ozzie Newsome spent most of his few remaining cap dollars on new right tackle Austin Howard, so Jensen needs to show he can do the job.
DL Patrick Ricard
Asking about individual players during training camp is often pointless because coaches are rarely anything but positive in their remarks, but you pay attention when a player’s name is mentioned without being prompted, something that’s happened more than once with Ricard. The 6-foot-3, 304-pound rookie free agent from Maine has lined up all over the defensive line and has stood his ground while making plays, putting himself in the roster conversation in a deep position group. Ricard will need to show the same promise in games, but he has looked the part of a solid rotational NFL defensive lineman.
WR Quincy Adeboyejo
The undrafted Ole Miss product is a bit of a mystery as his good speed and 6-foot-3, 197-pound frame didn’t translate to a standout college career, but he has turned heads, beating the likes of even Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr to make long catches in practices. Of course, making plays in camp workouts isn’t the same as producing in games, but he should receive ample opportunities with veterans such as Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace unlikely to make more than a cameo Thursday. After failing to develop so many late-round wideouts over the years, the Ravens would sure love to get lucky with Adeboyejo.