Tonight, at M&T Bank Stadium, we will be introduced to phase two of training camp when the Ravens host the Washington Redskins in their first preseason game of 2017.
Since the advent of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement it has been more and more difficult to determine the progress of players in camp prior to the first preseason game. There’s just not enough hitting to determine if a defender can finish a sack; if a running back can break a tackle; if a receiver is as accomplished navigating between the numbers when the threat of contact is introduced.
The list goes on.
The “fake games” allow us to evaluate a bit better, but even then, the results can be misleading. We all remember preseason heroes like Justin Harper, Bobby Rainey, Dwayne Missouri and John Simon who have contributed all-star preseasons only to eventually be greeted by a knock on their door from The Turk.
The deception lies in the fact that established veterans don’t go all out. They simply look to get their work in, to advance along the curve of getting into “football shape” and protect against injury in order to preserve their lucrative contracts. On the flip side, there are players fighting for their professional lives. They will play as if their hair is on fire.
With that said, here are some things to look for (besides the score) while watching tonight…
The Ravens offensive line struggled at times in 2016 and since then, they’ve had more personnel losses than additions. They’ve lost C Jeremy Zuttah (trade), T Ricky Wagner (free agent), C/G John Urschel (retirement) and promising rookie G Nico Siragusa (ACL/MCL/PCL). Tonight, Alex Lewis, who has been MIA with no explanation for five days, is likely out, while your first preseason glimpse of Marshal Yanda is likely to be in street clothes… Additions include Rookie T/G Jermaine Eluemunor who is raw, and T/G Austin Howard (free agent acquisition) who has yet to take the practice field.
Add it up and it’s a lot to dump on senior offensive assistant Greg Roman who is being counted on to help revive the Ravens running game. It’s a tall task at this point, made even more difficult by the absence of their best back, Kenneth Dixon (MCL).
A staple of a Roman-influenced offense is to run multiple plays out of the same formation. That’s counter-intuitive when compared to last season’s offense that was often predictable based upon formation and personnel groupings. To effectively execute the approach, it requires versatile athletes. One player to focus upon will be TE Nick Boyle. That said, it’s quite possible that the Ravens lean towards a vanilla approach v. Redskins so as not to reveal too much too soon to those Bengals who will be watching.
Mallett has had some horrendous days during camp. He’s also had some decent outings which for now (along with an undesirable cap situation) may have quieted down all of the Colin Kaepernick talk. BUT…
Field Yates, an NFL reporter for ESPN, revealed the following this morning.
Source: the Ravens converted $7.725M of CB Jimmy Smith‘s $8.5M base salary into a signing bonus, creating $5.15M in cap space.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) August 10, 2017
Mallett could see extensive action tonight and if he stumbles regularly, look for the CK talk to heat up again.
When players start talking about other players, that’s usually a sign that others should pay attention. Undrafted wide receivers Tim White and Quincy Adeboyejo (pronunciation: think if you were giving Joe Flacco a pat on the back – Atta-Boy-Joe) have been camp standouts and the vets have taken notice. Let’s see if they can continue the momentum when threatened by bone-crushing hits from defenders desperate to continue their careers.
Matt Judon has invested his time wisely this offseason and he’s a developing player worthy of your attention. Newcomers Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams can bring it off the edge. Tonight, they’ll get their chance while facing one of the league’s top offensive lines anchored by All-Pro T Trent Williams. A concern of mine is that the Ravens coaching staff bogs down Bowser with too much thinking, so much so that it slows his play on the field. You know, like they did with last year’s second-round pick.
Speaking of which…
Correa has had a steady camp and for the moment, has eased concerns stemming from the retirement of ILB Zach Orr. He’s quick to the ball in run support and can be an effective interior blitzer. He’s also had a few interceptions during camp but it’s that aspect of his game that should command your attention tonight – how he drops into coverage and plays in space.
The job was Tavon Young’s. You know the story there. Rookie Maurice Canady balled out throughout OTA’s and into training camp. He’s now out indefinitely. As of late, Lardarius Webb has filled in at nickel with Brandon Boykin and UDFA Jaylen Hill seeing time there as well. The position is important. If Boykin or Hill can step up, it frees Dean Pees to utilize the dime with Webb protecting the back end. But Pees has been very reluctant to use the dime in the past and slip ups from Boykin and/or Hill could force him to retreat into his nickel comfort zone, thus closing part of the Ravens defensive playbook.
Get Off the Field!
The Ravens struggled to get off the field during the fourth quarter in each of the past two seasons. They have focused upon improvement in that area this offseason. Tonight, it’s time to put that into practice, not so much in the fourth quarter, but throughout this preseason test.
The aforementioned Jaylen Hill from Jacksonville State, hasn’t been intimidated during camp. Let’s see how he responds to the bright lights of the semi-big preseason stage…Another unheralded defender to look for is DT Pat Ricard from Maine. He’s impressed coaches and if he’s able to step up to the point where the staff feels he can give them 15-20 snaps during the regular season, it might open up a trade possibility. The Ravens deepest positional group is along the defensive front.
There’s been very little tackling for the Ravens since their 2016 season finale against the Bengals. Missed tackles will be part of the process. But those who tackle effectively from jump street, will gain an edge in their positional battles.
Receivers White and Adeboyejo have opened the eyes of special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, labeling them the team’s best gunners. The return specialist job is wide open and for now it appears that Michael Campanaro has a considerable lead. It’s put up or shut up time for Baltimore’s favorite Midshipman, Keenan Reynolds.
The Ravens are 1-point favorites tonight with an over/under of 36 ½.