The Ravens conclude their longer-than-usual preseason schedule against Washington on Thursday night as final decisions loom to formulate their first 53-man roster of the 2018 season.
The next few days mark one of the most difficult times of the year for teams saying goodbye to players who’ve spent months — even years — proving their worth both on and off the field. Teams must trim their rosters from 90 to 53 players by 4 p.m. on Saturday.
“I would say that we care about our guys, [and] our guys matter to us,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We love our players. … Yet as far as the decisions that are made, no, there’s no sentimentality. It’s all about what gives you the best football team that you can have.”
Very few starters will play in the preseason finale with the Sept. 9 opener against Buffalo less than two weeks away, but the Ravens presumably still have a few roster spots up for grabs. One of the biggest remaining questions is how general manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh will fill out their depth along the offensive line behind the top six of Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, Matt Skura, James Hurst, and rookie third-round pick Orlando Brown Jr.
Brown has impressed in the competition with Hurst for the starting right tackle job, but the depth behind those established players remains unproven with second-year linemen Jermaine Eluemunor and Nico Siragusa and rookies Bradly Bozeman and Greg Senat vying for roster spots. Senat being sidelined with a case of turf toe could make him a candidate for injured reserve, but the Ravens surely would like to see one or two of these candidates step up on Thursday to make the decisions easier.
“I feel like it’s developing. I think we have some guys,” said Harbaugh of the offensive line depth. “Orlando has really probably proven himself as a viable guy. Then after that, I think those guys are in the process of developing into viable guys. But we have candidates. In that, I mean they haven’t probably done it consistently as well as the other guys, but they’ve done it enough to make you feel like they can do it and they just have to keep stacking [good days].”
Of course, Newsome could still look for outside help to shore up the offensive line between now and the start of the season, but that’s a task many executives prioritize this time of year. The Ravens acquired guards Luke Bowanko and Tony Bergstrom in the days leading up to last year’s opener.
Thursday marks the 11th time the Ravens and Washington will face off in the preseason with Baltimore owning a 7-3 advantage. The all-time regular-season series is tied 3-3 with the Redskins winning the last two meetings in 2012 and 2016.
The Ravens own a 32-12 record in the preseason in the Harbaugh era and have won an improbable 12 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 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 the many veterans expected to be held out of action as is typically done in the final preseason affair.
Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:
OUT: TE Hayden Hurst (foot), DT Willie Henry (hernia surgery), CB Maurice Canady (muscle strain), OT Greg Senat (toe), S DeShon Elliott (forearm), LB Alvin Jones, LB Bam Bradley (knee), CB Jaylen Hill (knee), WR Quincy Adeboyejo (quadriceps)
DOUBTFUL: S Bennett Jackson
QUESTIONABLE: LB Patrick Onwuasor, RB Gus Edwards (foot), OT Ronnie Stanley (knee), OL James Hurst, G Marshal Yanda (shoulder/ankle)
Five players to watch Thursday night
QB Robert Griffin III
The former NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year has been one of the feel-good stories of the summer, returning from a one-year league hiatus to make a strong impression to put himself in the running for a roster spot. There’s little debating Griffin being the better quarterback than rookie Lamar Jackson in the present, but the Ravens haven’t kept three quarterbacks to begin a regular season since 2009 and have other roster considerations, especially with the recent injuries to tight end Hayden Hurst and defensive tackle Willie Henry. This decision is more about the current confidence level in Jackson to step in for Flacco in the event of an injury, but watching Griffin against his old team will be fun either way.
DT Carl Davis
Despite starting nine games last year, the 2015 third-round pick could land on the wrong side of the roster bubble as he enters the final year of his rookie contract, but Henry being sidelined opens up a spot in the defensive line rotation. Davis’ ability to play multiple positions in the trenches make him a more attractive piece, but a strong Thursday performance would serve him well before final decisions are made. The Ravens have also done everything they can to hoard defensive linemen in recent years.
OL Bradley Bozeman
The sixth-round rookie played extensively at center last Saturday and brings impressive collegiate experience as a multi-year starter at Alabama, but his lack of strength and slow feet have frequently been exposed. Harbaugh said he’s better suited for center than guard, but he’s not in the running to challenge projected starter Matt Skura, leaving something to be desired in terms of his versatility. In a perfect world, his development would continue on the practice squad, but the Ravens may not have that luxury.
LB Chris Board
Many had predicted one spot coming down to veteran Albert McClellan or 2016 second-round pick Kamalei Correa, but the latter being traded could prompt the Ravens to take a longer look at a young inside linebacker like Board, who has flashed this preseason. The North Dakota State product is hardly a household name and entered training camp as a long shot, but so did the likes of Zach Orr and Patrick Onwuasor in past summers. His usage on special teams Thursday could say much about his chances.
WR Breshad Perriman
It would be surprising if Thursday isn’t the final time Perriman suits up for the Ravens as he’s failed to impress as a receiver or special-teams player despite this being the first healthy summer of his career. Perhaps his time in Baltimore would have been different had he not gotten injured as a rookie, but a clean break is best for both sides. Perriman works hard and is well liked in the building, but he’ll have an easier time elsewhere where he’ll be viewed as a reclamation candidate and not as a first-round bust.