After an offseason full of change, skepticism, and excitement, we’ll get our first live-game glimpse of the 2019 Ravens in the preseason opener against Jacksonville Thursday night.
All eyes will be on quarterback Lamar Jackson as he enters his first full year as the starter, but it remains to be seen how much we’ll see of the 22-year-old who helped rally the Ravens to their first AFC North championship since 2012 last year. Head coach John Harbaugh didn’t reveal his plans regarding playing time after Tuesday’s practice, but at least a few veteran players have been held out of the first preseason game in most summers during his tenure.
“We haven’t dialed it in exactly. We have a meeting tonight on all of that where we’ll dial it in exactly,” Harbaugh said. “I have my ideas on it. I think I know, but we’ll talk about it as a staff and figure it out and get a plan together.”
There will be no shortage of familiarity with the Jaguars, who traveled to Owings Mills to practice with the Ravens for two days earlier this week. Full contact was minimal, but the Ravens offense held its own against a talented Jacksonville defense while the Baltimore defense surprisingly struggled against quarterback Nick Foles and the Jaguars offense Tuesday afternoon.
Those practice reps against another team will serve as another interesting variable in determining how much veterans ultimately play Thursday. After practicing two days with the Ravens last summer, the Los Angeles Rams didn’t play any of their starters in a preseason game at M&T Bank Stadium. In fact, Rams coach Sean McVay held most of his starters out for the entire preseason before his team ultimately advanced to the Super Bowl, which will surely provide food for thought for other NFL coaches moving forward.
“We got a lot done. They got a lot done,” said Harbaugh of the two practices with Jacksonville. “Hats off to coach [Doug] Marrone and the whole Jaguar organization. I thought they were very classy. Everything was very professional on both sides. We got our work done. We respected one another. It was good.”
Thursday marks the second time the Ravens and Jacksonville will meet in the preseason with Baltimore winning 48-17 in 2012. However, the Jaguars lead the all-time regular-season series by a 12-9 margin.
The Ravens own a 33-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh and have won 13 exhibition contests in a row a streak extending back to the opener of the 2016 preseason.
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 Thursday’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: QB Robert Griffin III (thumb), WR Marquise Brown (foot), OL Randin Crecelius (undisclosed)
QUESTIONABLE: G Marshal Yanda (foot/ankle)
Five players to watch Thursday night
RB Kenneth Dixon
Dixon is arguably the most fascinating player on the roster bubble. Injuries and two drug-related suspensions limited him to just 18 games over his first three seasons, but he averaged a robust 5.6 yards per carry last season and looks quicker and leaner this summer. No higher than third on the depth chart behind starter Mark Ingram and 2018 leading rusher Gus Edwards, Dixon doesn’t play special teams and is also competing with speedy rookie Justice Hill for snaps, additional factors not helping his case. No one doubts his talent, but is there enough trust to commit a spot to Dixon in the final year of his rookie deal? If not, you would think the Ravens will try to showcase him for a potential trade by summer’s end.
OLB Tim Williams
The 2017 third-round pick flashed in limited chances over his first two seasons, but nagging injuries and some questions about his dedication held Williams back when pass-rush rotation snaps were up for grabs. He has practiced more consistently this summer and is again flashing as a pass rusher, but his ability to set the edge is a significant question in his quest for extensive playing time. Williams appears to be second on the depth chart behind Pernell McPhee at rush linebacker, but he will need to prove himself in preseason games to not only force his way into a meaningful role but to lock up a roster spot. As defensive line coach Joe Cullen said this week, the clock ticking on Williams is “ready to explode.”
G Jermaine Eluemunor
After being waived last September and spending time on the practice squad, Eluemunor regained some roster footing with respectable fill-in play last season and took that momentum into the spring as he lined up as the starting left guard. However, Harbaugh has mentioned his need to get in better shape multiple times and Eluemunor failed the conditioning test at the start of training camp, leading to rookie Ben Powers taking most of the first-team reps over the first week. Eluemunor has since found his way back into the starting left guard spot, but his hold on the job is tenuous at best with Powers and James Hurst also in the mix. This is a massive opportunity Eluemunor can’t afford to squander any longer.
ILB Chris Board
Most anticipated Kenny Young stepping into the starting weak-side inside linebacker spot next to Patrick Onwuasor after four-time Pro Bowl selection C.J. Mosley’s free-agent departure in March, but it was apparent in the spring that Board — a 2018 undrafted free agent from North Dakota State who led the Ravens in special-teams tackles last year — had moved ahead of Young in the competition and he’s only strengthened his hold on the base and nickel jobs since camp opened. The Ravens like Board’s speed and have cited how much he dropped into pass coverage in college as valuable experience for his transition to the NFL, but we’re still talking about someone who played all of 14 defensive snaps as a rookie.
WR Miles Boykin
We won’t see first-round rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown Thursday since he’s only practiced on a very limited basis coming back from January foot surgery, but Boykin has looked like Baltimore’s best wide receiver at times this summer. The rookie third-round pick from Notre Dame always looked the part with a 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds at the combine, but those impressive traits have carried over to the practice field as he has made plays against the talented Baltimore secondary and has caught the ball pretty consistently. The key will be maintaining that momentum in preseason games to grow his confidence and continue building chemistry with Jackson.