At a time when many teams are in fine-tuning mode, the Ravens offense remains in flux entering the second preseason game against Miami on Thursday night.
As if the extended absence of quarterback Joe Flacco weren’t concerning enough, injuries have ravaged an offensive line that entered training camp already facing significant questions. Three interior linemen — Alex Lewis, John Urschel, and rookie Nico Siragusa — have been lost for the season since the start of training camp, and left tackle Ronnie Stanley is currently sidelined with an undisclosed ailment.
The injuries have forced Baltimore to shuffle the group on nearly a daily basis, making it difficult to assess a running game that has been revamped by senior offensive assistant Greg Roman or the pass protection that will need to be even better for a quarterback who will be returning from a back injury.
“We are just going to have to build everything around it, but you do benefit from the fact that guys are working different positions,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “There is an unintended benefit. That would be something you are trying to get guys to do. We have been forced to get guys to [work at other positions] probably more than we would like. We will make it work, and in the end, it will be for good.”
Against the Dolphins, the offense will hope to approach the high level of success enjoyed by the Ravens defense in the preseason opener. The revamped unit held Washington to 47 total yards and no points in the first half of the 23-3 victory last week. Harbaugh confirmed that 2017 first-round cornerback Marlon Humphrey will make his preseason debut against the Dolphins, adding even more intrigue to the defense.
Though the Ravens offense realistically needs to be graded on a curve with backup Ryan Mallett under center and the offensive line less than 100 percent, Harbaugh made it clear that he wants to see improvement from the 3.3 yards per play gained against the Redskins in the first half.
“It is an opportunity for young guys to go in there and play well,” Harbaugh said. “We want to be as precise as we can be with our passing game, and we want our backs to run hard.”
Thursday marks the first ever meeting between these AFC teams in the preseason, but the all-time regular-season series is tied at 6-6. Baltimore won in 38-6 blowout fashion over Miami last December and has prevailed in five of the last six clashes in the regular season. They will meet again in a Thursday night game at M&T Bank Stadium on Oct. 26.
The Ravens own a 25-12 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’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 consider any veterans who could be held out of the preseason opener due to the coaching staff’s preference.
Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:
OUT: QB Joe Flacco (back), WR Breshad Perriman (hamstring), WR Kenny Bell (hamstring), CB Maurice Canady (knee), RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), OL Nico Siragusa (knee), CB Tavon Young (knee), OL Alex Lewis (shoulder), WR Tim White (thumb)
DOUBTFUL: OT Ronnie Stanley (undisclosed), OT Stephane Nembot (undisclosed), LB Lamar Louis (undisclosed)
QUESTIONABLE: OT Austin Howard (shoulder), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder), CB Brandon Boykin (undisclosed), CB Sheldon Price (shoulder), WR Quincy Adeboyejo (knee)
Five players to watch Thursday night
OL James Hurst
After entering camp as the starting right tackle and moving to left guard in place of Lewis, Hurst is expected to start at left tackle with Stanley sidelined. Despite his immense struggles there in the past, he needs to show improvement protecting the blind side since Lewis was also the backup left tackle. The Ravens love Hurst’s work ethic and believe he’s improved, so the Miami front will be an important test.
LB Kamalei Correa
Lost in the terrific defensive performance last week was the quiet play of Correa, who struggled to get off blocks and made one tackle in 17 defensive snaps. He looks the part in practice, but that needs to translate to games to ease concerns about the 2016 second-round pick replacing Zach Orr. The Ravens are poised to play more dime this year, which should help spare Correa from being exposed in coverage.
TE Maxx Williams
It’s been a quiet camp for the 2015 second-round pick, who is coming off a knee cartilage surgery that’s clouded expectations. Williams has worked hard to push his way through practices on a daily basis, but he hasn’t moved well and has struggled to make plays. You want to give him more time and the benefit of the doubt coming back from such a procedure, but his 21 plays last week weren’t encouraging.
CB Jaylen Hill
Long-term injuries to Tavon Young and Maurice Canady have opened the door for Hill, who has looked the part as a nickel corner with a good chance to make the roster as a rookie free agent. He’s shown good ball skills and reminds you a bit of Young as a 5-foot-10, 178-pound corner who plays bigger than his slight stature. Lardarius Webb appears likely to play the nickel spot, but Hill is definitely in the mix.
FB Ricky Ortiz
The reviews for Lorenzo Taliaferro at fullback have been underwhelming while Ortiz quietly received more than twice as many offensive snaps in the opener. The Ravens may not have a desperate need for a traditional fullback with the way Roman often motions a tight end into that position, but the Oregon State product will try to prove himself before outside options are potentially considered.