OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The fourth preseason game is typically reserved for younger players and veterans squarely on the bubble, with starters making little more than a cameo appearance — if that.
However, given the unprecedented nature of the 134-day lockout and the lack of a regular offseason, teams may elect to play starters more extensively. However, Ravens coach John Harbaugh wasn’t tipping his hand one way or the other in terms of his plans for the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night.
So, how long should we expect to see the Baltimore starters?
“We’ll see. That’s what I think about it.”
With the Ravens signing Bryant McKinnie last week and veterans Matt Birk and Marshal Yanda just returning to the practice field on Saturday, concern exists over how quickly the offensive line can gel as the Pittsburgh Steelers come to town for the season opener on Sept. 11. Harbaugh is weighing his options in balancing live-game reps for the line with keeping everyone healthy in the final preseason game.
Thursday marks the last chance for rookies such as former Maryland receiver LaQuan Williams and veterans on the bubble such as linebackers Prescott Burgess and Tavares Gooden to make an impression with the coaching staff. For players fitting into these categories, the trip to Atlanta could be for their professional lives in some form or another.
“A great opportunity for the young guys, no doubt about it,” Harbaugh said. “They’ll be playing, obviously, a majority of the game. This is where guys get a chance to get on tape and live NFL action and prove to us and the rest of the league what they can do.”
Harbaugh would not budge from his stance, but the fourth-year coach acknowledged the need to vary his typical stance for the final preseason game.
“It is a little different,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just have to see how we’re going to handle it. It’s to be determined. We talked about it, we’re figuring it out, but it’s different. That’s why it’s not just so cut-and-dry like it usually is.”