OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Aiming to win their season-opening game for the first time since 2012, the Ravens are preparing to be without two members of their nickel defense against the Buffalo Bills.
Pro Bowl outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil has already ruled himself out for Week 1 while slot cornerback Jerraud Powers is also not expected to play on Sunday. Those developments could leave the Baltimore defense vulnerable, especially at the pass rush after Dumervil contributed 32 1/2 sacks in his last three seasons with the Ravens.
His absence opens the door for young outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith, Kamalei Correa, and Matt Judon to receive more snaps opposite veteran Terrell Suggs in passing situations. Judon, a fifth-round rookie from Grand Valley State, was particularly impressive in the preseason, leading the team with three sacks and 17 tackles.
“I feel good about it,” said defensive coordinator Dean Pees about the young trio. “Would we like to have Elvis? Sure, because Elvis is a special guy, but we also have some other special guys out there, and I think it’s an opportunity for these young guys to step up, get the adrenaline flowing in the first game of their career, and get after it. They’ve shown some things in preseason that I think we’ll have the ability to do that. Hopefully, we’ll be able to show that on Sunday.”
Powers wasn’t a lock to serve as the nickel back before injuring his ankle in the second preseason game against Indianapolis, but the Ravens are looking at the combination of Anthony Levine, Will Davis, and rookie Tavon Young to fill the slot corner role. Baltimore also used the dime package quite a bit in training camp, a new wrinkle to watch for early in the regular season.
With Buffalo ranking first in the NFL in rushing offense last season, the Ravens may not deviate too much from their base defense in Week 1, but there was a point of emphasis this summer for the unit to vary its looks and personnel in pass coverage.
“We have some guys that I think are very capable of doing that,” Pees said. “Whether we play one guy at one time or whether we substitute and play different guys at different times, we might have different packages. You never know.”
In addition to Dumervil and Powers, rookie running back Kenneth Dixon was again absent from Thursday’s practice with every other member of the 53-man roster participating fully.
Meanwhile, the Bills were hit hard by the injury bug this summer, but there are no ailments of significant consequence on their current 53-man roster.
The Ravens jersey number swapping continued in full force on Thursday, particularly in the secondary with four players changing digits. Starting cornerback Shareece Wright is now wearing No. 24, Will Davis has switched to No. 31, rookie Maurice Canady has taken No. 39, and Powers will don No. 26.
Backup quarterback Ryan Mallett has also changed from No. 7 to No. 15, the number he wore at previous NFL stops and at the University of Arkansas.
Though they’re all currently on injured reserve, safety Matt Elam now has No. 33, cornerback Kyle Arrington was assigned No. 35, and wide receiver Michael Campanaro is now listed as No. 12.
At the very least, the equipment staff is staying busy just days before the season opener.
Below is Thursday’s full injury report:
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), CB Jerraud Powers (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: TE Dennis Pitta (finger), G John Urschel (shoulder), TE Maxx Williams (knee), CB Shareece Wright (foot)
FULL PARTICIPATION: S Colt Anderson (foot), CB Kevon Seymour (hamstring), QB Cardale Jones (right shoulder)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: OL Ryan Groy (ribs)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Jonathan Williams (ribs)