Ravens mulling roster decisions ahead of final preseason tuneup

August 27, 2019 | Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens will rest most starters in Thursday’s preseason finale against Washington while hoping to gain clarity on several important decisions.

One of the most pressing is determining a starter at left guard with training camp and the first three preseason games doing little to narrow down the choices. Third-year lineman Jermaine Eluemunor remains atop the official depth chart and has long been considered the slight favorite since working with the first team during spring workouts, but conditioning concerns, inconsistent play, and a minor injury that kept him out of the third preseason game have kept the door open for other competitors.

Eluemunor has easily taken the largest share of the snaps, but rookies Ben Powers and Patrick Mekari and second-year interior lineman Bradley Bozeman have all seen first-team reps at left guard at various times this summer with no one really distinguishing himself. Head coach John Harbaugh has also mentioned James Hurst’s ability to play the position at which he’s started multiple games in the past, but the versatile veteran hasn’t received any meaningful time at left guard in preseason games or practices open to the media.

With the season opener less than two weeks away, the Ravens appear likely to evaluate the position on a week-by-week basis, at least early in the season. There’s always the possibility of general manager Eric DeCosta acquiring an upgrade in the coming days, but quality offensive linemen remain in high demand in today’s NFL, making that task easier said than done.

“I’m very open right now. It will probably, in all honesty, remain a competition until somebody establishes themselves as the established starter,” Harbaugh said. “There’s a difference between being a starter and an established starter. That person is going to have to continue to earn that by how they play into the regular season, and I’m quite sure a certain one or more guys will step up.”

Cornerback remains one of the deepest positions on the roster, but the Ravens face tough decisions with nickel back Tavon Young and rookie Iman Marshall, who both remain out with injuries. Despite the team’s medical staff initially recommending season-ending surgery for a neck injury sustained at the beginning of the month, Young has yet to make a final decision and could still be a candidate to return later in the season. Harbaugh confirmed Marshall won’t be ready for the start of the regular season, making it possible he’s placed on season-ending injured reserve this weekend. That outcome would likely improve the chances of Baltimore keeping an additional cornerback such as Maurice Canady.

Any injured player a team wants to keep eligible for one of its two designations to return from IR must be on the initial 53-man roster set Saturday afternoon. That means the Ravens would have to risk losing another player they’d prefer to keep on the active roster to keep Young in consideration for an eventual 2019 return.

“That’s going to be something that we’ll have to figure out,” Harbaugh said. “That’s something we talked about with the balls in the air. Those are all the different balls that are in the air right now, and I don’t know what we’ll do with all of that.”

Of course, the Ravens will also be evaluating a number of players on the roster bubble Thursday while long shots will be auditioning for a spot on the practice squad or an opportunity elsewhere.

“Go out there and make some plays,” third-year defensive end Chris Wormley said. “If the Ravens aren’t going to keep you, then put tape out there that 31 other teams are going to want to say, ‘Hey, let’s take this guy and take a chance on him.'”

Forgotten man?

Still listed as a starter on the latest depth chart released by the team’s public relations staff, wide receiver Seth Roberts is one of the more interesting names on the roster with final cuts looming.

Roberts worked regularly with the starting offense before sustaining an unspecified injury in the preseason opener, but he returned to practice over the weekend and could see some action against Washington.

“Some of it has to do with how healthy he is,” Harbaugh said. “He practiced the last couple of days and looked good. He was playing really well — a veteran guy, an experienced player. He brought that to the table, and he looked great. There is a possibility that he could play on Thursday with some other guys.”

The 28-year-old signed a one-year, $2 million contract — $1 million guaranteed — in April and averaged just under 40 catches and 456.5 receiving yards in his first four seasons with Oakland. He appeared to be safely on the roster early in camp to help raise the floor of an inexperienced group that will include at least two rookies, but the Ravens may now view his presence as more of a luxury with first-round pick Marquise Brown and third-round selection Miles Boykin expected to play substantial roles and slot receiver Willie Snead and fourth-year wideout Chris Moore still very much in the passing-game mix.

Roberts is regarded as a good blocker, but he’s played only 13 snaps on special teams in his career.

Tuesday’s attendance report

Four players were absent from Tuesday’s workout, a list including Young, Marshall, fellow cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, and offensive lineman Randin Crecelius.

Brown, cornerback Jimmy Smith, defensive tackle Gerald Willis, and outside linebackers Jaylon Ferguson and Tim Williams returned to the practice field. According to Harbaugh, Ferguson was cleared from the concussion protocol and is expected to play against Washington after missing last week’s game against Philadelphia.

Having returned to practice over the weekend, starting inside linebacker Chris Board was also cleared after sustaining a concussion in the second preseason game against Green Bay.

The Ravens signed defensive back Fish Smithson to fill the final spot on their preseason roster. The 25-year-old Baltimore native has now spent time with five different teams since going undrafted out of Kansas in 2017. He appeared in two games with Washington during the 2017 season.