What to Look For During Preseason Game 1
During training camp, the media is they eyes and ears for fans wondering about the Ravens progress in the heat of July and early August. But when that preseason game 1 arrives and fans can see for themselves, all of the documented observations go out the window – summarily dismissed, at least by most fans. The preseason games allow fans to draw their own conclusions.
But does one preseason game render the summer accomplishments (or failures) meaningless up to that point? Do the blood, sweat, tears, weight room work, classroom sessions and reps on field all go for naught?
Actually, they don’t.
Coaches consider the full body of summer work when making roster decisions. How many times have we seen preseason stars end up unemployed just a few weeks later?
Camp and the accompanying preseason games are part of an evaluation process. Sometimes the evaluators miss. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes fans’ eyes lie to them. Sometimes they don’t.
With that in mind, here’s how I see the Ravens by position so far through camp as they prepare to line up against the spotted cats from Jacksonville in preseason game 1.
Heading into camp, how Lamar Jackson performs as the de facto starter was the big question. So far, so good. In fact, very good. Robert Griffin has been the consummate company man, working through reps in practice even with the fracture thumb. Trace McSorley has been decent and he has a shot at making the team. We haven’t really seen him participate with special teams the way we thought, but that can be attributed in part to Griffin’s injury. McSorley has been needed for reps at QB.
One of the team’s strengths. Mark Ingram will start while Gus Edwards will see a decent amount of action. Justice Hill will be the change-of-pace back. The wild card is Kenneth Dixon. He’s looked good and is in much better shape. RB Coach Matt Weiss had this to say about the oft-injured, too oft-suspended tailback:
“I think he’s, as a runner, the most pure, talented guy we have, which says a lot, because we have some talented guys. The thing that has hurt him in the past has been a lot of stuff outside of his control. The best ability is availability sometimes, and right now he’s doing a great job just controlling the things he can control, and he’s done a great job learning the new offense. He’s done a great job of being in shape and being ready, and I’m just really happy with the work he’s doing and where he’s at.”
Might the Ravens be fluffing Dixon up for a potential trade?
Will the Ravens keep five or six receivers? After two weeks it would appear that Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin and Willie Snead are the only locks. More than likely Seth Roberts will make the squad as will Chris Moore. If they keep six that final spot will come down to Jaleel Scott, Antoine Wesley and Michael Floyd. The eyeballs through 2 weeks tell me Scott gets the nod with Wesley heading to the practice squad.
The big three have been very impressive and each has his own distinct role. It’s a very complementary trio consisting of Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst. Charles Scarff has flashed at times. He’ll need to be productive on special teams to make the cut. But guys like him and Cole Herdman are a dime a dozen.
The biggest takeaway I have is bewilderment. Why is Jermaine Eluemunor running with the first unit AT ALL? He’s slow, lacks pop, looks lost in space and can be overpowered at the point of attack. The best unit across the offensive front from left to right is: Stanley-Hurst-Skura-Yanda-Brown. Powers could step in at LG so that the team can preserve Hurst as a coveted swingman. Bradley Bozeman has been decent. A guy to watch out for is undrafted guard Patrick Mekari. His versatility is appealing. He’s taken snaps across the offensive front during camp.
David Copperfield must be in attendance at Ravens camp. How else do you explain why a 370 pound defensive tackle disappears on the field? Michael Pierce is slowly rounding into shape and he’s taken ownership of his poor conditioning, but the behemoth DT is being counted on to provide an interior push and so far through camp, we haven’t seen that. He isn’t alone.
The Ravens have speed on the outside but they can’t get home in large part because QB’s can step up in the pocket. The Ravens praise Chris Wormley as a steady player – and he is. He just doesn’t make splash plays. He’s a bit like former Raven, Lawrence Guy although a tad less noticeable. Willie Henry is being counted on to create some noise inside. Zach Sieler has potential as does Gerald Willis and Daylon Mack. Along with the group’s leader, Brandon Williams, it’s a crowded bunch and during camp, none have really stood out. That could change tonight.
Kenny Young or Chris Board? That was the question coming into camp. The answer is clear – Board. Patrick Onwuasor has been steady and has a knack for making splash plays. Nicholas Grigsby is listed as a “2” on the depth chart. Inside linebacker is a thin position on paper and I have concerns about Board or Young holding up at the point of attack in the running game. Beyond these four, there are nothing but JAGs at this position. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Ravens add someone to this group.
On the outside, Tim Williams, Tyus Bowser and Shane Ray have shown some promise but they struggle to get home due to the lack of an interior push. Jaylon Ferguson looks stiff and is easily washed out. Let’s see if going full tilt with pads changes things for this rookie bull rusher. Matt Judon is doing his thing as is Pernell McPhee who moves all over the defensive front.
The strength of the team resides in this deep secondary. Tony Jefferson matches up better with Earl Thomas than he did with Eric Weddle. Thomas isn’t playing as fast as one might expect. He’s playing in a more complex defense and is forced to think a bit more. Once the defense becomes second nature to him, the gifted playmaker will splash regularly. Anthony Levine, Sr. is steady as always and DeShon Elliott looks ready to take the reins from Jefferson in 2020. Chuck Clark and Brynden Trawick provide solid depth but for the most part they are just special teams guys.
Marlon Humphrey will be a star in the NFL. Brandon Carr is ageless. Maurice Canady has stepped up his game while Anthony Averett hasn’t shown as well as expected. Iman Marshall is a guy who might trip in the parking lot and end up on IR. He has potential but looks a bit raw. Tavon Young has surprisingly been stealth, battling some nagging minor injuries. But the biggest disappointment has been Jimmy Smith who has been torched repeatedly during camp.
Chris Moore looks like the best kick return man while Cyrus Jones is clearly the team’s best punt returner. Don’t be shocked if at some point Marquise Brown takes some reps as the PR. Justin Bethel was signed to be a special teams stud but it remains to be seen if it plays out that way. Bringing ace teamer Trawick back wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence for Bethel who struggles as a corner. If Bethel is cut the Ravens realize a cap savings of $1.5M with dead money of $500K in both 2019 and 2020. Plus, they would have a good shot at reclaiming a lost 5th round comp pick. Bethel’s work is cut out for him.
The Wolfpack will remain intact. Hopes of a Kaare Vedvik trade aren’t as bright in 2019 as they were in 2018 before his off-the-field injury. He’ll have to do better during the fake games than he has at practice.