The full-scale news cycle around the NFL has geared back up, and with it, coverage of the Ravens. A lot of it hasn’t looked good, with the unfortunate news of a score of season-ending injuries, peppered with some pejorative takes on the Le’Veon Bell signing.
It can’t be sunshine and rainbows all the time, but look at it this way: this much coverage means actual regular-season Baltimore Ravens football is being played this week, and once the game has begun, the prognostication stops. We don’t have to wonder any more what the team is going to look like, because we get to watch what happens on Monday Night Football. If that doesn’t put a smile on your face, you may be reading the wrong publication.
Let’s get you geared up for the weekend’s action by giving you some of the buzz around the team that you may have missed:
Our first snippet comes courtesy of ESPN’s Jamison Hensley on Twitter. Talk about an opportunity to get your season started on the right foot:
The Ravens are the only Week 1 favorite in the AFC North.
Ravens (-4.5) at Raiders
Steelers (+6.5) at Bills
Browns (+6) at Chiefs
Bengals (+3) vs. Vikings
— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) September 7, 2021
Now obviously, this is a situation where teams facing AFC North opponents need to hold up their end of the bargain, and games aren’t played on paper. Still, if the Ravens can capture a win on Monday night and the rest of the AFC North goes winless, it would give them some nice breathing room out of the gate. While it would only be a one-game cushion, Week 2’s matchup features a date with the troublesome Chiefs, so Baltimore would probably take all the help they can get. Here’s hoping this weekend brings a win from my second favorite team: whoever’s playing the Steelers.
Meanwhile, in the wake of the Le’Veon Bell signing, Bleacher Report’s Blake Schuster authored a piece discussing Bell’s fit with the 53-man roster.
The article posed a hypothetical depth chart featuring Bell, which had him listed as the third-string RB. Given the still-developing news about Gus Edwards’ injury, the chart is once again due for a shake-up, but having Le’Veon as the third-stringer on the 53-man roster had me kicking around the potential scenarios. While Le’Veon’s position behind Ty’Son Williams on the chart probably isn’t much a revelation to those who saw Williams in preseason, it does beg the question of how the coaching staff actually plans to deploy Bell.
Do they try to utilize him more in the pass-catching game? If Bell shows flashes of his former self and Ty’Son Williams struggles out of the gate, how long would they wait to give Le’Veon starting reps? With the pickup of Trenton Cannon, could Bell still be at risk of sitting third on the chart if Cannon’s fit looks better? How does Devonta Freeman factor in? And what happens then if the Ravens reach an agreement with Latavius Murray?
Outside of Owings Mills, no one knows the answer to these questions yet. Hell, the coaches probably don’t even know the answers yet until they have more time to evaluate Bell’s potential impact and to regroup from some of the injury fallout. Only time will tell, but it raises plenty of questions, not the least of which is how long the status quo may be sustainable with the kind of player (and personality) we know Le’Veon to be.
Next up is a piece from Yahoo Sports’ Kevin Oestreicher, who discussed Baltimore’s protected players on the practice squad:
Oestreicher recaps some of the carryover rules from last season regarding practice squad players. Quick notes are that the practice squad was expanded to 16 total players, but grants teams the opportunity to protect four of those players from being signed by another team. He also includes a tweet from Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic, who reported the four practice squad players for Week 1 are QB Trace McSorley, LB Josh Bynes, DT Justin Ellis, and S Anthony Levine, Sr. The latter portion of the article mentions the potential usefulness of having a guy like Bynes to fill in as depth with LJ Fort down, and Justin Ellis possibly filling in if Derek Wolfe isn’t a full go.
It hadn’t occurred to me until he mentioned their availability as late-notice substitutions for a game time decision, but this whole situation has some EDC gamesmanship written all over it. The rule change essentially allowed Baltimore to stash bench players on the practice squad, despite those players being good enough to fill in fringe roster spots. While there’s the obvious drawback of not being able to sub those guys in during a game if someone goes down or needs a few snaps off, the calculated risk of waiving this batch of protected players seems to have paid off. Theoretically, that same group could be protected over and over again throughout the season unless one of them needs to be called up, effectively giving the Ravens a 57-man roster.
Finally, rounding it out, Noah Trister of The Associated Press penned an article about the Ravens’ trajectory for the season, and a quote from a member of the coaching staff really caught my eye. You can view the full piece here:
Trister talks about the need to address rounding out Lamar Jackson’s passing game, and he throws in a quote from Ravens QB Coach James Urban:
“Michael Jordan could drive, and then he learned a jump shot. So that’s how we’ve approached it… Michael Jordan didn’t stop driving the lane. He just learned how to shoot better and more consistently. So we’re just learning how to, more consistently, throw the ball — and more accurately.”
I will fully acknowledge that I think it’s way too early to put LJ in the echelon of an athlete like MJ, but the comparison makes a lot of sense. The coaching staff views Lamar as an athlete whose skill set in some aspects, is so complete and so dominant that rounding out the part that needs a little more work could make him absolutely lethal.
With the injury setbacks at the running back position, our boys could definitely use a breakout passing season from #8. Here’s hoping the team puts together a “Flu Game” type season.