The Ravens opened their three-game preseason schedule with a 17-14 win against the New Orleans Saints, rallying for their 18th straight preseason win despite not recording a first down in the first quarter. Afterward, coaches and players understandably spoke enthusiastically about performing in front of fans again, after a largely fan-less 2020 season that head coach John Harbaugh described as “eerie.”
But as with every preseason game, regardless of the game score there are winners and losers on the roster given the competition for spots on the initial 53-man roster, which this year must be set by Tuesday, Aug. 31.
Here are three players on the roster bubble whose stock is rising, and three whose stock is falling, after the first preseason game:
QB TYLER HUNTLEY
It’s always a good sign when the head coach says of you: “He won us the game,” and that was John Harbaugh’s assessment of Huntley’s play in the win against the Saints. Huntley played the second half after Trace McSorley played the first half, and Huntley was more potent as a playmaker and passer.
Huntley finished 12-for-16 for 79 yards as a passer and ran seven times for 43 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown that proved to be the game-winner. Huntley’s longest completion was just 17 yards — the same as McSorley’s — but he moved the chains and most notably, when things broke down in front of him, he was able to create a positive play, such as when he escaped pressure and scampered for a 17-yard gain.
The fact that McSorley played the entire first half suggests McSorley held the edge for the No. 2 quarterback spot behind Lamar Jackson, but Harbaugh announced Aug. 16 that McSorley will be out “a few weeks” with a back issue. That gives Huntley an opening to secure the No. 2 quarterback job.
S GENO STONE
Stone was the Ravens’ seventh-round draft pick last year, but by late season he had been cut twice and ended the year with the Houston Texans. He told his agent that he wanted to come back to Baltimore and re-signed with the Ravens in March, but given the Ravens’ deep secondary, a spot on the 53-man roster is far from secure.
Stone helped his case with a strong game against the Saints, recording three tackles, three passes defensed and a pair of interceptions, his first multi-interception game since high school. To be sure, Stone had help on both interceptions. On the first, Saints quarterback Taysom Hill rushed a throw with a blitzling Brandon Stephens bearing down on him, and on the second, Stone grabbed a pass initially tipped by cornerback Chris Westry. But to his credit, he was around the ball and made the play when it was there to be made.
Perhaps most notable, Stone was on the starting kickoff coverage unit, a good sign for players on the roster bubble. The final roster spots are won on special teams.
K JAKE VERITY
To be clear, Jake Verity is not on the Ravens’ roster bubble. He isn’t competing for Justin Tucker’s job. But Verity is in camp learning from the best and hoping to put good performance on tape that translates to a job somewhere else. Wil Lutz did exactly that en route to a successful career with the Saints.
Verity, an undrafted rookie from East Carolina, has a big leg but has been inconsistent on the practice fields. In his first preseason game action, though, went 2-for-2 on field goals, hitting from 42 and 53 yards. The Ravens turned a similar hot streak from Kaare Vedvik into a trade to Minnesota for a fifth-round draft pick. That’s not likely to happen again, but Verity has put a good performance on tape, which is all he could hope for.
Lutz, incidentally, is injured, and if the Saints want to look elsewhere for a temporary replacement, they got a good look at Verity.
OL BEN POWERS
Powers began the game as the Ravens starting left guard, then moved to right tackle, but it was a struggle for him all night. The Ravens failed to get a first down in the first quarter, and on a third-and-5 designed quarterback draw by Trace McSorley, Powers was beaten by Saints defensive lineman David Onyemata, who dropped McSorley for a 3-yard loss. Powers later was called for a holding penalty, and too often the pocket was collapsing where Powers was playing.
Powers began training camp in a battle for the starting left guard job with Tyre Phillips and rookie Ben Cleveland, who missed the Saints game with an undisclosed injury. Shifting Powers to tackle, a position he has not played previously, was a curious development. It’s possible that this signals either Phillips or Cleveland will win the left guard job and the Ravens want to see if Powers has a future as the team’s swing tackle. But Phillips already has experience there, and should Cleveland be the left guard, Phillips is the more logical tackle option.
Either way, Powers could get caught in a numbers game. After watching the offensive line struggle against the Saints, general manager Eric DeCosta figures to be watching the waiver wire closely, and any addition lessens Powers’ chances.
S JORDAN RICHARDS
Richards has carved out a nice niche as a special teams ace during six NFL seasons, but he is limited as a safety and had a bad missed tackle against the Saints that turned into a 38-yard pass play. Richards finished with one tackle in 41 defensive snaps.
Impressive rookie Brandon Stephens and Geno Stone have both entered the competition at backup safety, and Anthony Levine is already there as a special-teams ace as well. With their issues at offensive line, with banged-up cornerbacks and with the potential of keeping all three quarterbacks, is there room for another safety who really only plays special teams?
John Harbaugh and the Ravens value special teams as much as any team in the league, so Richards will be hoping that is enough to land him on the good side of the roster bubble.
T ANDRE SMITH
The veteran Smith opted out of the 2020 season because of COVID, then he returned this summer hoping to compete for a backup tackle job. But it’s been a struggle throughout camp for Smith, 34, who was the No. 6 overall pick in 2009 and spent his first seven seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. He’s had trouble against the Ravens speed rushers such as Odafe Oweh and has ended up on the ground far more often than the Ravens would like to see in training camp practices.
It was also telling that as the Ravens mixed and matched a lot of combinations up front, with two or three other presumed starters sidelined, Smith didn’t see the field until the second half. If the Ravens keep eight or nine offensive linemen, it’s hard to see how Smith makes the cut.
This story was updated to reflect the Trace McSorley injury news.
Photo Credits: Kenya Allen/PressBox