BALTIMORE — A new season and new hope.
The memories of 20 players on injured reserve and nine losses by a single possession a year ago will be wiped away Sunday when the Ravens open their 21st season against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
Though head coach John Harbaugh is relying on several key veterans returning from significant injuries in 2016, the Ravens were preparing to make history by starting rookies at left tackle and left guard with first-rounder Ronnie Stanley and fourth-rounder Alex Lewis, respectively. According to Elias, it marks the first time since 1995 that an NFL team has started rookies at those two positions in a season opener.
Stanley was expected to start from the moment general manager Ozzie Newsome made him the Ravens’ earliest first-round pick of the last 16 years, but Lewis emerged out of necessity with third-year lineman John Urschel missing extensive time with a shoulder injury in training camp. Urschel was a full participant in practice this week, but Baltimore declared him inactive for Sunday’s game, electing to go with just two reserve offensive linemen for Week 1.
There were a couple of other mild surprises on the Ravens’ list of deactivated players. Pro Bowl outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot), veteran cornerback Jerraud Powers (ankle), and rookie running back Kenneth Dixon (knee) had already been ruled out on the final injury report of the week, but the Ravens deactivated cornerback Will Davis and running back Buck Allen, who are both healthy.
Baltimore will have just two active tailbacks — Justin Forsett and Terrance West — and chose to activate young cornerbacks Maurice Canady and Sheldon Price instead of Davis.
As expected, veteran tight end Dennis Pitta is active and set to play in his first game in nearly two years, completing his improbable comeback from the second devastating right hip injury of his career.
With Dumervil out, the Ravens will be leaning on younger options such as Za’Darius Smith, Matt Judon, and Kamalei Correa to help pick up the pass-rushing slack opposite veteran Terrell Suggs, who is making his return from last September’s season-ending Achilles injury.
Meanwhile, Buffalo had no surprises among its seven inactives.
The Ravens and Bills are meeting for the seventh time ever in the regular season with each team previously winning three games. However, Buffalo has not won in Baltimore since the 1999 season.
Counting his time with the New York Jets, Bills head coach Rex Ryan is aiming to win his sixth consecutive season opener, but the former Ravens defensive coordinator is 0-3 against Baltimore as a head coach.
With former Ravens such as Tyrod Taylor and and Ed Reed making their return to M&T Bank Stadium as members of the Bills, there was quite a bit of catching up during pre-game warmups. Quarterback Joe Flacco chatted with his former understudy at length, and Harbaugh spent time talking to his former All-Pro safety, who is now in his first year as an assistant defensive backs coach. Reed was celebrating his 38th birthday on Sunday.
The Ravens will be wearing purple jerseys with white pants while Buffalo dons white tops and blue pants for the 2016 opener.
Sunday’s referee is Brad Allen.
According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore called for party cloudy skies with temperatures in the low 80s, winds up to 11 miles per hour, and no chance of precipitation.
Below are Sunday’s inactives:
LB Elvis Dumervil
CB Jerraud Powers
RB Kenneth Dixon
RB Buck Allen
OL John Urschel
DT Willie Henry
CB Will Davis
S Colt Anderson
CB Kevon Seymour
QB Cardale Jones
WR Walter Powell
RB Jonathan Williams
LB Bryson Albright
C Patrick Lewis