The first preseason game will be particularly important for the Baltimore Ravens to accurately assess their running game.
Coach John Harbaugh said throughout the offseason that the team needed to bolster the rushing attack, which was ranked 28th in the NFL averaging 91.4 yards per game last season.
Part of the problem was that neither offensive coordinator, Marc Trestman, who was fired in October, nor Marty Mornhinweg committed to running the ball. Baltimore was ranked 30th in the league with 367 rushing attempts.
This year’s group of running backs, led by starter Terrance West, are expected to get more carries under Greg Roman, who was hired as the senior offensive assistant/tight ends coach. In four of his five full seasons as an offensive coordinator with Buffalo and San Francisco, Roman’s rushing attack ranked in the top five of the NFL.
Harbaugh will use the game against the Washington Redskins to gauge that unit’s progress.
“You really do not know where you are at until you play somebody else,” Harbaugh said. “It can’t be 100-percent full-speed out here. It is just too physical, too violent in there with those guys, in terms of just football and the pads cracking and all that and bodies flying.
“We will know when we get out there in the games and the preseason games and really into the regular season also – we will know for sure. It is a point of emphasis. We have been working really hard at it, and I like what we are doing. I really do. I like the way it is being coached, and I like the way the guys are working on the drills, and proof will be in the outcome.”
One of the biggest questions surrounding the running game is whether West is ready to carry the load as the featured back. He had a season-high 23 carries Oct. 16 against the Giants, finishing with 87 yards and a pair of touchdowns. West finished the season with a career-high 774 yards with five touchdowns.
However, he had 15 or fewer carries in 13 of 16 games.
“I would to love to have 30 carries a game,” said West, who had one, 100-yard rushing game last season. “I am very prepared. I worked my tail off all season. I just have to go out there and perform and have funs – do what I do.”
Despite the limited opportunities, West is not short on confidence. In fact, he said Fantasy Football owners would be wise to pick him up this season.
“It would be smart to grab me,” West said. “That is the smart way to do it.”
Baltimore also signed Danny Woodhead in the offseason and he has been effective catching passes out of the backfield. He has impressed coaches with his work ethic.
“He is just a professional,” running backs coach Thomas Hammock said. “He has been there; he has done that. Nothing surprises him. He is a consummate pro, and I think young guys – whether you are drafted or undrafted – they can learn from him. He is a guy that has come through the ranks the hard way and has had a lot of success throughout his career.”
— Austin Howard is expected to take over the starting job at right tackle. However, after signing a three-year, $16 million deal with the Ravens on Friday, Howard has yet to practice. Ravens coach John Harbaugh does not appear overly concerned, saying it’s “just up to the trainers when guys get to practice. When they tell us he can practice, we will coach him.” The 6-foot-7, 330-pound Howard started 10 of 11 games for the Raiders last season but was hampered by shoulder and ankle injuries.
Right tackle was a glaring area of need after Rick Wagner, signed with the Detroit Lions as a free agent. James Hurst had been working at right tackle before the team signed Howard. Hurst was having a solid camp and will still provide valuable depth for that unit. Howard was part of the Ravens’ practice squad in 2011 before making a bigger impact for the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders.
— Both wide receiver Breshad Perriman and cornerback Marlon Humphrey have not practiced this week and neither will likely play against Washington on Thursday. Humphrey, who is out with an apparent hamstring injury, is challenging for a starting role. He is listed as day-to-day. Perriman is also dealing with a hamstring issue. Neither injury is expected to be serious and the Ravens are likely just being cautious with both players, especially with the team’s injury history. Left guard Alex Lewis also was out this week for undisclosed reasons.
— Ravens rookie linebacker Tyus Bowser caught the ire of special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg for lackluster play in Tuesday’s practice. “Tyus, I don’t know where you were last night but you aren’t here this morning,” Rosburg said. The Ravens emphasize the importance of special teams play, and players will often find themselves on the bench if they fail to effectively produce with that unit.