Trying to conjure up excitement for the preseason finale is an effort in vain, but don’t tell Ravens coach John Harbaugh that the game holds no importance.
While most starters aren’t expected to play against the St. Louis Rams Thursday night, the Ravens will provide a final opportunity to rookies and fringe veterans to stake their claim for a spot on the 53-man roster. For these players, this game will be as important as any they’ve ever played.
“We’re going to try to get as many reps as we can for the guys that we’re trying to determine their future,” Harbaugh said. “These guys work too hard out here to not give them every opportunity out there in a game situation to prove what they can do.”
Thursday marks the third preseason meeting between the Ravens and the Rams, with St. Louis holding a 2-0 edge. Baltimore leads the all-time regular-season series with a 3-2 advantage after winning 37-7 at the Edward Jones Dome last Sept. 25.
As is the case with every preseason game, the final score will be irrelevant, but Harbaugh and his coaching staff hope to take away enough information to make any final decisions that linger regarding who they’ll select to join the 2012 Ravens.
Those not making the cut will hope to land on the practice squad or with any of the other 31 NFL teams after Friday’s 9 p.m. deadline. For many, the vision of playing in the NFL will come to an end in less than 48 hours.
“This is their dream,” Harbaugh said. “There are a lot of guys that have an opportunity right now that are on the bubble to make this team. So, we’ve got decisions to make here and for other teams to take a look at. So, they’ve earned that, they deserve that, and that’s what we’ll do.”
Five bubble players to watch
1. CB Chykie Brown
Assumed to be the odd man out in a deep group of cornerbacks entering training camp, the second-year defensive back has shown improvement in coverage as well as special-teams ability as a gunner and on kick coverage to improve his standing for a roster spot. Brown has three tackles — and another on special teams — and a pass breakup in three preseason games.
Danny Gorrer and rookie Asa Jackson hold the advantage in the pecking order, but the Ravens like the potential of the 2011 fifth-round pick and would be hesitant to let him go because of his contributions on special teams. While keeping seven cornerbacks would appear to be excessive for most teams, the thin depth at safety will likely lead to veteran Corey Graham working more at free safety, thus improving Brown’s chances for a roster spot.
2. LB Sergio Kindle
After Kindle’s strong start in training camp, many began daydreaming that the 2010 second-round pick would finally begin realizing his potential after a fractured skull derailed his rookie season and left him virtually deaf in one ear. However, the big linebacker hasn’t shown much since then and suffered a shoulder stinger that kept him sidelined for the Ravens’ third preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Kindle still doesn’t show great awareness and struggles to shed blocks when he’s stymied on his initial rush at the line of scrimmage, but coaches have complimented his work ethic and maintain that he’s come a long way. The lack of depth at outside linebacker will likely lead to the Texas product finding his way onto the 53-man roster, but Kindle will need to improve as a special teams player and show more at linebacker to remain in Baltimore long-term. A strong performance against the Rams would definitely allow Kindle to sleep better before final cuts are made Friday.
3. OT Ramon Harewood
After landing on injured reserve in each of his first two years with the Ravens, Harewood has remained relatively healthy this summer and has shown improvement after struggles during organized team activities and the early portion of camp. A 2010 sixth-round pick from tiny Morehouse College, the Barbados native is still relatively new to the game of football, but his 6-foot-6, 334-pound frame and athleticism were attractive features the Ravens waited patiently to develop.
Harewood still doesn’t play with as much strength as his size suggests he should, but the uncertainty with reserve tackle Jah Reid’s injured calf may lead the Ravens to keep him on the roster for now. Rookie Kelechi Osemele has worked more extensively at left guard while competing with veteran Bobbie Williams in recent weeks, so the coaching staff may elect to take a ninth offensive lineman, which would open the door for Harewood.
4. DE DeAngelo Tyson
The seventh-round pick of April’s draft got off to a slow start this summer, but Tyson has shown glimpses of impressive athleticism and has collected four tackles and a sack this preseason. Coaches have noted his improvement, and the Georgia product has ideal size (6-foot-2 and 310 pounds) for the defensive end spot in a 3-4 alignment.
Tyson’s chances for a roster spot improved when veteran Ryan McBean suffered a season-ending ankle injury, but he would likely be the seventh defensive lineman the Ravens would keep if he lands on the favorable side of the bubble. A strong performance in St. Louis would narrow the gap with 2011 practice squad member Bryan Hall, who has shown the ability to pressure the quarterback from the interior. The organization never likes giving up on its draft picks this soon, but waiving a seventh-rounder would be far from uncommon.
5. S Omar Brown
Nothing about Brown’s measurables are impressive, but the rookie free agent from Marshall has shown an uncanny nose for the football in recovering three fumbles and grabbing an interception in the first three preseason games. At 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, Brown doesn’t have great size as a safety and lacks speed — running the 40-yard dash in only 4.7 seconds — but secondary coach Teryl Austin and defensive coordinator Dean Pees have complimented his instincts in the defensive backfield.
The season-ending injury to Emanuel Cook and concussion concerns with veteran Sean Considine have left the Ravens vulnerable at the safety position with only the raw fourth-round selection Christian Thompson behind starters Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard. This has allowed Brown to earn more consideration for a roster spot when he was likely regarded as little more than a long shot a couple weeks ago. However, the veteran cornerback Graham’s ability to slide over to safety makes it more difficult for Brown, meaning the practice squad might be a realistic destination for him. It also wouldn’t be surprising to see the Ravens pursue another veteran option if Considine’s recovery from a concussion drags out much longer.