One preseason game remains before the Ravens turn all attention toward Miami and the start of the 2019 regular season, but the stakes remain high for some against Washington.
Despite what the preseason finale may lack in entertainment value, Thursday represents the final chance for those players on the bubble and even the longest of long shots at the bottom of the roster to make a strong enough impression to earn a job or at least keep their NFL dream alive somewhere else. That reality isn’t lost on the coaching staff even as Week 1 preparations for the Dolphins ramped up this week.
Most spots on the 53-man roster will have already been determined before Thursday’s kickoff, but there’s room for a surprise every now and then.
“They’re fighting for their livelihoods,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “Anybody that plays on Thursday is fighting for their livelihood. Let’s not forget Michael Pierce, his rookie year, made the team after the fourth game of the preseason against New Orleans because he wrecked that game. Things like that happen.”
Head coach John Harbaugh will be watching Chris Horton’s special-teams units closely as contributions in that phase often serve as a tiebreaker among reserves bringing comparable value at their individual positions. It’s long been the path to a roster spot for late-round draft picks, undrafted free agents, or castoffs from other teams who can even work their way into more meaningful roles over time.
Embracing that mindset is critical.
“When the guys come in, I tell them, ‘The way you’re going to make it is special teams,'” veteran defensive back Anthony Levine said. “And when you first come in the league, you’re not trying to hear that. When I first came in the league, I wasn’t trying to hear that. ‘Special teams? I wasn’t playing that in college. What are you talking about?’
“But I got around guys who were special teams guys, and they showed me the way.”
Thursday marks the 12th time the Ravens and Washington will meet in the preseason with Baltimore enjoying an 8-3 edge. The all-time regular-season series is tied at 3-3.
The Ravens own a 36-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh and have won an amazing 16 in a row, a streak going back to the beginning of the 2016 preseason.
Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report
The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do in the regular season, but I’ve offered my best guess on what one would look like if it were to be released ahead of Thursday’s game.
Players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of several will remain in question. Of course, this list does not include the many veteran starters expected to be held out due to the coaching staff’s preference in the exhibition finale.
Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:
OUT: QB Robert Griffin III (thumb), CB Tavon Young (neck), CB Iman Marshall (thigh), OL Randin Crecelius
DOUBTFUL: G Marshal Yanda (foot/ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Seth Roberts, OT Ronnie Stanley (ankle), WR Marquise Brown (foot), G Jermaine Eluemunor, OT Greg Senat, DT Gerald Willis, OLB Tim Williams
Five bubble players to watch Thursday night
QB Trace McSorley
Harbaugh said the rookie from Penn State “definitely earned the right” to be part of their plans, but he stopped short of confirming McSorley would be on the 53-man roster. The Ravens have carried three quarterbacks going into a season just once in the last nine years, but Lamar Jackson’s playing style and the nature of this offense make it easy to argue for keeping an additional quarterback. Despite practicing on special teams, McSorley would likely be a game-day inactive if he does make the team, but the preseason flashes he’s shown might make it difficult to get him through waivers and onto the practice squad. If you believe he can at least develop into a legitimate backup, enough value is there to keep him.
ILB Otaro Alaka
Alaka appears to be the most likely choice to extend the Ravens’ impressive streak of keeping at least one rookie free agent on the 53-man roster to a 16th consecutive year, but this is hardly a lock. Baltimore must decide if a fourth inside linebacker is necessary behind starters Patrick Onwuasor and Chris Board and top reserve Kenny Young, but the lack of experience in that position group might make keeping Alaka more appealing, especially with Onwuasor hitting free agency next winter. Alaka started 45 games at Texas A&M and has physical tools that should translate at the next level, but he can put an exclamation point on his case with a good performance on defense and on special teams Thursday.
WR Seth Roberts
We may not even see Roberts play against Washington, but that decision could tell us where he stands on the 53-man roster. There appeared to be little doubt about his place on the team early in camp as he took extensive snaps with the starting offense and consistently made catches, but an injury in the preseason opener, the summer emergence of Miles Boykin and Chris Moore, and the much-awaited debut of Marquise Brown have complicated Roberts’ status. His blocking ability and production in Oakland would raise the floor of a wide receiver group lacking experience, but the Ravens’ desire to play their rookies could leave few snaps for a veteran like Roberts, who’s played little on special teams in his career.
S Brynden Trawick
Despite ranking as one of the league’s best special-teams units again last year, the Ravens weren’t thrilled with their personnel, a reason why they signed cornerback and three-time Pro Bowl special-teams player Justin Bethel early in free agency. Trawick would also fit into that special-teams department after being named to the 2017 Pro Bowl as a member of the Tennessee Titans, but the Ravens are already committed to carrying a large number of defensive backs and he wouldn’t project as more than a reserve dime back on the defense. How the Ravens proceed with injured cornerbacks Tavon Young and Iman Marshall and bubble corner Maurice Canady could ultimately decide Trawick’s fate.
WR Michael Floyd
The former first-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals was no more than a long shot for the 53-man roster earlier this month, but a string of strong practices and a good performance in the preseason win over Philadelphia last week have at least moved Floyd back into the conversation. The 29-year-old has looked more explosive recently, but he is far removed from his productive seasons with the Cardinals and hasn’t done enough to make you think he’s even surpassed Roberts, let alone anyone else to secure a place on the roster. Floyd is more realistically playing for an opportunity elsewhere than for a spot on the Ravens’ 53-man roster, but that makes Thursday no less important for him.