The Ravens have reached the light at the end of the preseason tunnel and conclude the summer with a trip to New Orleans on Thursday night.
Most starters — and possibly even a few key reserves — won’t play against the Saints as head coach John Harbaugh has annually shied away from using his most important players in the final preseason game, but a handful of jobs could still be on the line for those individuals on the roster bubble. After cutting their roster to 75 players earlier this week, the Ravens will make their final cuts to the 53-man limit by Saturday afternoon.
“It will be about the things that fit us and that we need,” Harbaugh said. “That’s a fine line, and in a lot of ways, it’s fine slicing for sure. We have some good choices and some tough choices, and that’s a good problem to have. That’s what we’re facing.”
While we will wait to see the 2016 debuts of veterans Steve Smith and Elvis Dumervil until the season opener on Sept. 11, wide receiver Breshad Perriman could make his preseason debut on Thursday, which would mark the first time he’s played in a game since he was in college and Central Florida played North Carolina State in the St. Petersburg Bowl on Dec. 26, 2014.
The 2015 first-round pick said Tuesday that he has been fully cleared to play, but it will be up to the coaching staff to determine whether he sees action. Harbaugh said at the beginning of the week that he would like to see Perriman get some live-game reps if the training staff allowed it.
“It’s very exciting,” said Perriman, who made it clear that he wants to play against New Orleans. “I’ve been waiting for a long time. It’s finally coming.”
Thursday marks the fourth time these teams have met in the preseason — including each of the last three years — with the Ravens holding a 3-0 edge to go with their 5-1 advantage in all-time regular-season games against the Saints. Baltimore has built a 23-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh.
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 the injury report would look like if one were to be released ahead of Thursday night’s game against New Orleans.
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 consider the many veteran players and starters who will likely be held out of the preseason finale due to the coaching staff’s preference.
Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:
OUT: RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), TE Dennis Pitta (finger/hip), TE Maxx Williams (undisclosed), S Matt Elam (knee)
DOUBTFUL: LB Za’Darius Smith (ankle), S Kendrick Lewis (undisclosed), G John Urschel (contusion), DT Brandon Williams (undisclosed), CB Jerraud Powers (undisclosed)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Breshad Perriman (knee), LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), WR Steve Smith (Achilles), CB Shareece Wright (undisclosed)
PROBABLE: CB Maurice Canady (hamstring), RB Buck Allen (undisclosed), CB Lardarius Webb (back)
Five bubble players to watch Thursday night
LB Arthur Brown
The writing appeared to be on the wall late last year when he still couldn’t get on the field as the Ravens were playing out the string in a lost season, but the 2013 second-round pick will have a final chance to make an impression on Thursday night. In three preseason games, Brown has collected two tackles and a pass breakup, but he’s done little to distinguish himself this summer, a common theme for what was once thought to be a promising talent. With second-round rookie Kamalei Correa ahead of him on the depth chart, Brown’s time could finally be up as he doesn’t offer as much versatility as other options.
OT James Hurst
The third-year offensive lineman made 13 starts in his first two years with the Ravens, but he owns the dubious distinction of being pushed back into the left knee of Joe Flacco last November, causing the season-ending injury. Even putting that moment aside, the former rookie free agent from North Carolina has frequently looked overmatched whenever he’s been on the field. With fellow rookie Alex Lewis capable of backing up new left tackle Ronnie Stanley, Hurst has also worked at guard this summer, but it doesn’t appear like there’s a roster spot for him unless an injury or two occurs.
LB Chris Carter
Carter is an interesting case as a veteran linebacker with the ability to play inside and outside and to excel on special teams. With both Albert McClellan and Zach Orr — two special-teams standouts — expected to receive more playing time on defense, Carter might be an attractive choice to help pick up the special-teams slack and ease their workloads. At the same time, the Ravens only have so much room on the roster with younger linebackers such as Correa and Matt Judon now in the picture. Carter may not find his way onto Baltimore’s 53-man roster, but he’s likely to catch on elsewhere if he doesn’t.
WR Keenan Reynolds
It’s easy to root for the former Navy quarterback and college football legend, but there just hasn’t been enough progress to like his chances to make the 53-man roster. Reynolds hasn’t shown sure hands as a returner and has struggled to gain separation when working as a receiver. Because of his status as a sixth-round pick and his immense popularity, Reynolds could still be stashed on injured reserve or signed to the practice quad to continue developing. Maybe he can still be the next Antwaan Randle El or Julian Edelman one day, but it just doesn’t look like it will happen this year.
CB Maurice Canady
A nagging hamstring injury has cost the sixth-round rookie extensive practice time this summer, but the 6-foot-1, 193-pound Canady has flashed promise as an outside corner, a spot where the Ravens are light behind starters Jimmy Smith and Shareece Wright. Canady played extensively at the University of Virginia and does show more polish than the typical late-round cornerback, but Thursday will be a big opportunity to prove he’s deserving of one of the final spots on the 53-man roster. It could come down to one roster spot for either Canady or Sheldon Price, but both have had health issues this summer.