OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Most teams would have trepidation starting a rookie at left tackle to block for a franchise quarterback coming back from a major knee injury.
But that fear doesn’t seem to resonate with the Ravens as Ronnie Stanley continues to go about his business in his first summer protecting Joe Flacco’s blindside. In fact, the 2016 first-round pick is hardly being discussed when coaches are grading the tape from daily practices.
The Ravens hope that continues with Flacco making his preseason debut against Detroit on Saturday night, his first start since tearing two ligaments in his left knee on Nov. 22, 2015. The organization wouldn’t have made Stanley their earliest draft pick in 16 years — or released veteran Eugene Monroe this summer — if they didn’t think he was up to the challenge.
“He has just really quietly gone about his business each and every day at practice,” said offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, who quipped that the only help he’s given Stanley was to suggest buying bonds. “He is very focused. There is not a lot of stuff going on outside of him just trying to do his job, and it is a really good sign. He has a good, quiet demeanor. He is working extremely hard.”
Questions remain as to who will ultimately replace free-agent departure Kelechi Osemele at left guard — with veteran John Urschel and rookie Alex Lewis being the top candidates — but Stanley has silenced any lingering questions about his readiness with a strong preseason. According to Pro Football Focus, the 6-foot-6, 320-pound lineman has graded as the best rookie tackle in the NFL and has yet to allow a pressure in the preseason.
Trestman gives much credit to offensive line coach Juan Castillo for getting Stanley to this point, but the Ravens made it clear early on that they felt the polished young tackle was a perfect fit for their outside zone scheme after he played in a pro-style offense at Notre Dame.
“There is nothing that tells you he can’t do this, and the game is not going to be too big for him and the spot is not going to be too big for him,” Trestman said. “That is an important spot, obviously. That is what we are seeing each and every day. We have to assess it and grade it each day and each game. We think he is going to grow into being an outstanding football player.”
Tougher test for Judon
Much of Saturday’s focus will be on veteran players seeing their most extensive action of the preseason, but the coaching staff wants to take a closer look at rookie outside linebacker Matt Judon.
Leading the Ravens in tackles (nine) and sacks (two) in the preseason, Judon has mostly faced second- and third-team offensive players, but head coach John Harbaugh said after Saturday’s win in Indianapolis that they want to put him against some starting-caliber competition. Standing at 6-foot-3 and 275 pounds, Judon plays with a style that reminds at least one member of the coaching staff a little bit of Terrell Suggs.
“He’s got pretty good burst coming off the edge for being big and physical,” said defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who also praised Judon’s mental preparation. “I think he’s going to grow into a big guy, kind of like ‘Sizz’ is. I wouldn’t compare him to [Suggs] in any way, shape, or form right now, but I think he’s that style of guy.”
Roster preview on Saturday
With final roster cuts less than two weeks away, the third preseason game often provides good insight into which fringe players are on the right side of the bubble.
Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg mixes and matches quite a bit on coverage and return units to evaluate young players in the first two preseason games, but we’ll see the real groups — or close to them — in the first half on Saturday. Bubble players appearing on those units figure to have a better chance than those who are absent early on.
“What you will see is the player rotation will be different,” Rosburg said. “We will have guys like Albert McClellan, [who] hasn’t played a rep on special teams so far, and he is one of our best players. He is one of the best in the league. Zach Orr has not played a rep on special teams this preseason. Kyle Juszczyk [hasn’t played a special-teams rep. I could go on and on. The first two preseason games, we are trying to develop players. The third preseason game starts out more like a real game.”
Twelve players remained absent from Wednesday’s practice, a group including nose tackle Brandon Williams, left guard John Urschel (contusion), tight ends Dennis Pitta (broken finger), Maxx Williams, and Darren Waller, safeties Kendrick Lewis and Matt Elam (knee), cornerbacks Kyle Arrington (concussion), Jerraud Powers, and Maurice Canady (hamstring), running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot), and defensive end Bronson Kaufusi (broken ankle).
Brandon Williams hasn’t practiced since playing in Saturday’s preseason game, but head coach John Harbaugh downplayed his unspecified ailment on Tuesday.
“He has a nick or a bruise,” Harbaugh said. “All of the guys that were out today — with the exception of Matt Elam — have non-season-threatening-type issues they’re dealing with. Brandon has one of those, so he’s out because he couldn’t practice.”