The Ravens open the preseason schedule Saturday, Aug. 14, at home against the New Orleans Saints at M&T Bank Stadium, and for players, the opportunity to line up against a different team always injects some enthusiasm into the grind of training camp.
This year’s preseason opener will be the first opportunity for this year’s rookies to shine “when the lights come on,” as head coach John Harbaugh likes to say, but it’s also the first preseason action for last year’s rookies, since the 2020 preseason was totally wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Ravens take a 17-game preseason winning streak into the game dating to the 2015 preseason. And while these games don’t count in the standings, Harbaugh said the streak “means a lot, whether it’s a winning streak or just the idea of how you approach the games. … The main thing is the challenge for us in making sure we’re competing against ourselves in terms of how we play, and that’s what we work on.”
Harbaugh wouldn’t divulge whether starting quarterback Lamar Jackson will see any action against the Saints, and it’s likely that several veterans will sit out. That gives those lower on the depth chart every opportunity to make a case for inclusion on the 53-man roster, which must be set Tuesday, Aug. 31. (A first cutdown, from 90 to 85 players, takes place next week, with five more cut by Aug. 24.)
Here are five players on the roster bubble who could help their case with a strong showing against the Saints:
G Ben Bredeson
The Ravens have at least six or seven roster spots locked up on the offensive line, leaving about eight players competing for the final couple of roster spots. Bredeson played left guard throughout his career at Michigan, but Ben Powers, Tyre Phillips and third-round rookie draft pick Ben Cleveland appear to be the front-runners in the competition for that job.
The Ravens initial depth chart lists Bredeson as the No. 2 right guard behind Kevin Zeitler, and with Zeitler sidelined by a foot injury the past couple of weeks, Bredeson should get a chance to state his case for a spot, though the Ravens have a lot of options to mix and match in the interior of the line.
Bredeson was a fourth-round draft pick last year out of Michigan, and the Ravens don’t like to give up on draft picks quickly, but he could get caught in a numbers crunch. Putting a couple of good preseason games on tape would greatly help his chances.
WR Jaylon Moore
Moore flashed during spring OTAs, then quieted down somewhat but seems to make a play or two in every practice. And more important, he’s on the field. Marquise Brown (hamstring), Miles Boykin (hamstring), Rashod Bateman (groin) and Deon Cain (undisclosed) have all been sidelined for multiple practices and won’t play against the Saints, and veteran Sammy Watkins will play little if at all.
Moore (5-foot-11, 191 pounds) spent all of last season on the Ravens practice squad after being signed as an undrafted rookie out of Tennessee-Martin. With the Ravens short-handed at the position, Moore’s standing has climbed by default, and he has occasionally flashed.
If Watkins doesn’t play, the Ravens’ receivers group in addition to Moore will feature James Proche, Devin Duvernay, fourth-round rookie draft pick Tylan Wallace, Devin Gray, Binjimen Victor and newly signed receivers Michael Dereus and Siaosi Mariner, though Mariner left practice early Aug. 12 with an undisclosed injury.
TE Josh Oliver
The lingering injury to Nick Boyle has clouded the Ravens’ tight end picture, but Oliver has put himself in position to win the No. 3 tight end job over Eric Tomlinson, Eli Wolf and undrafted rookie Tony Poljan. Tomlinson is more of a blocking tight end in the mold of Boyle, and his roster status could depend on Boyle’s health. Oliver is more of a receiving threat, and in training camp practices he has made several nice catches over defensive backs in red-zone drills.
Oliver (6-foot-5, 249 pounds) was a third-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2019 draft, but injuries limited him to just four games in the past two years.
“He hasn’t played a lot of football in the NFL, but he’s a talented guy,” Harbaugh said.
The Ravens traded a conditional seventh-round draft pick to the Jaguars for him in March, and given their tight end-centric offense, keeping a third tight end in addition to fullback Patrick Ricard is a strong possibility.
S Ar’Darius Washington
The Ravens had kept an undrafted rookie on the initial 53-man roster for 16 straight years before that streak ended last season, and Washington is one of the most likely candidates to start a new streak.
Washington was viewed by many as a Day 3 draft prospect out of Texas Christian, but concerns about his size (5-foot-8, 176 pounds) kept his name from being called. The Ravens promptly signed him, and he has put himself in the mix for a backup safety job behind Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott.
As with any backup defensive backs, Washington’s route to the team will be dictated by special teams ability, but Ravens coaches have praised his defensive instincts, and he does find himself around the ball a lot.
Incidentally, the Ravens’ other undrafted rookies in camp include tackle Adrian Ealy, running back Nate McCrary, tight end Tony Poljan, tackle Foster Sarell, defensive tackle Jovan Swann and kicker Jake Verity. Defensive lineman Xavier Kelly (Achilles) is out for the season, and inside linebacker Barrington Wade was cut and then claimed via waivers by the Denver Broncos.
CB Chris Westry
As with the wide receivers, injuries have sidelined several Ravens cornerbacks, and Westry has emerged with quality reps day after day. Jimmy Smith, Nigel Warrior, Khalil Dorsey and Iman Marshall all have missed practice time, and Westry’s confidence seems to be growing along with his workload.
Westry was originally signed by the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted rookie out of Kentucky in 2019 but spent that season on injured reserve. He was on the Cowboys practice squad most of last year and appeared in two games in December before ending his season on injured reserve again.
At 6-foot-4, Westry’s length stands out, and at times he uses it to his advantage, like when he soared to tip away a pass from receiver Jaylon Moore in a red-zone drill.
“As he pays more and more attention to the detail of his technique, and he repeats good technique rep after rep, he starts making plays,” Harbaugh said. “It’s definitely shown up in camp.”
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