Saturday brings what is traditionally viewed as the final tuneup before the start of the regular season, but it may not turn out that way for at least a few key members of the Ravens.
With as many as three possible starters on the offensive line potentially sitting out against Miami, two rookies — Greg Senat and Orlando Brown Jr. — could be manning the first-team offensive tackle spots against Dolphins defensive ends Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn, who combined for 19 sacks last season and have an impressive total of 154 1/2 in their careers. Starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley and versatile offensive lineman James Hurst — who has served as the backup left tackle in past seasons — are not expected to play, begging the question whether starting quarterback Joe Flacco should even suit up if the inexperienced Senat is protecting the blindside.
Flacco has played only 31 snaps in the preseason, but he’s performed well in two games, completing 12 of 16 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 141.4. By all accounts, the 33-year-old is healthy and has had an excellent spring and summer, making you wonder if exposing him to a patchwork offensive line is worth the risk so close to the Sept. 9 opener against Buffalo.
“We’ll see. It’s just going to really depend on how much Joe needs,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I’m confident in the guys we’ll put out there that they can protect Joe, and I’m confident that we can run schemes that will protect him. They have two really good pass-rushing ends obviously, and we have to make sure that we keep those guys under control, no matter who’s the quarterback.”
After such a seamless start to the summer, the Ravens officially learned this week they will be without top cornerback Jimmy Smith and first-round rookie tight end Hayden Hurst to begin the season, significant blows to both sides of the ball. Saturday will offer defensive coordinator Wink Martindale his best opportunity to see what the secondary will look like for the season opener as veteran Brandon Carr and 2017 first-round pick Marlon Humphrey will handle the starting outside spots while Smith serves his four-game ban for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Hurst’s absence certainly hurts a tight end group that combined to make only 43 receptions in the NFL last season.
Of course, those absences to begin the season will impact roster decisions as general manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh must formulate the initial 53-man squad next Saturday.
The Ravens have the additional challenge of a quick turnaround coming off a Monday night win in Indianapolis.
“I told the guys this is great preparation for the season because we’re going to have an oddball start to the season,” said Harbaugh, referencing the Week 2 trip to Cincinnati just four days after the opener. “We’re going to play Sunday-Thursday right out of the gate. Wow, what a great opportunity to prepare for that. We got just what we needed is the way we’re looking at it.”
Saturday marks the second time the Ravens and the Dolphins will face off in the preseason with Baltimore winning the only other exhibition encounter last year. Baltimore leads the all-time regular-season series by a 7-6 margin and has won both postseason meetings, but this year will mark the first time since 2012 these teams won’t meet in the regular season.
The Ravens own a 31-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh and have won 11 straight exhibition contests.
Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report
The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess on what one would look like if it were to be released ahead of Saturday’s game.
Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will remain in question. Of course, this list does not include any veteran starters who could be held out due to the coaching staff’s preference.
Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:
OUT: TE Hayden Hurst (foot), OT Ronnie Stanley (knee), LB Bam Bradley (knee), CB Jaylen Hill (knee), WR Quincy Adeboyejo (quadriceps)
DOUBTFUL: CB Maurice Canady (muscle strain), OL James Hurst, LB Alvin Jones
QUESTIONABLE: RB Kenneth Dixon (hamstring), TE Mark Andrews (hamstring), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder/ankle), S Bennett Jackson
Five players to watch Saturday night
WR Jaleel Scott
Past disappointing fourth-round picks such as Ron Johnson, P.J. Daniels, and Christian Thompson were never in real danger of being cut as rookies, but Scott saw only three offensive snaps against Indianapolis and dropped a pass in that limited playing time, making you wonder if he’s really even on the bubble at this point. He’ll need a strong finish to the preseason to avoid a dubious distinction, but the Ravens could still attempt to stash him on injured reserve or at least get him to the practice squad if he clears waivers.
CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste
Previously a long shot to make the team with six cornerbacks ahead of him in the pecking order, Jean-Baptiste now finds himself on the bubble with Smith going to the reserve-suspended list to start the season and Maurice Canady currently banged up. The 2014 second-round pick is with his sixth different organization as he’s been talented enough for teams to sign and too inconsistent to stick anywhere for long. His solid performance against the Colts included an interception and looks more important now.
OT Greg Senat
A former basketball player at Wagner, the 6-foot-6, 305-pound Senat is a raw prospect who could dramatically enhance his chances of making the 53-man roster with a good performance against the Dolphins. Both James Hurst and Alex Lewis have struggled in past stints as the reserve left tackle, so Senat holding his own with the first team would be an encouraging sign for the present and future.
DE Zach Sieler
The seventh-round pick from Ferris State received ample playing time beginning in the first half of the Colts game, a good indication of where he stands in his attempt to win a roster spot. Veterans Brent Urban and Carl Davis are not under contract beyond this season while Chris Wormley is the only other 5-technique defensive end who’s safely on the roster, making it more likely that Sieler makes the team.
TE Darren Waller
I didn’t like Waller’s chances a couple weeks ago as he returned from a one-year drug suspension, but the Hayden Hurst injury and an underwhelming wide receiver competition have created the opportunity for him to potentially take a spot. Formerly a wide receiver, Waller has a 6-foot-6, 255-pound frame that could be utilized in the red zone and as a bigger slot option, but can the organization really trust him?