OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The competition for the Ravens’ No. 3 running back job has developed into one of the more intriguing storylines of training camp, with Ty’Son Williams and Nate McCrary both putting the heat on incumbent No. 3 back Justice Hill.
While Williams and McCrary starred in the 20-3 win at Carolina on Aug. 21 and have continued to compete well in practice each day, Hill has been sidelined for the past week by an ankle injury. For all three, time is running out on their ability to secure a roster spot; the Ravens play at Washington Aug. 28 in the final preseason game, and the 53-man roster must be set three days later.
Williams, who spent all of last year on the Ravens’ practice squad, probably has the edge on McCrary, an undrafted rookie from Saginaw Valley State. Whether Williams has done enough to supplant Hill, one of the Ravens’ top special teamers from a year ago, will be known next week, but both Williams and McCrary have impressed offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
“They’re really making a case for themselves,” Roman said after the team’s Aug. 25 workout. “They just come out every day and get better and make plays and show up. This is the ultimate meritocracy. You do a good job, you get rewarded. So they’re making a strong case, and we really like them as players.”
Williams has 20 carries for 89 yards in two preseason games, and the 6-foot, 220-pounder has impressed with his physical style and ability to gain yardage after contact. Against Carolina, Williams broke tackles at the line of scrimmage and again at the second level, maintaining his balance and lunging into the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown that head coach John Harbaugh called “a great football run.”
Williams also has seven catches for 37 yards in two preseason games.
McCrary scored on a 2-yard touchdown run against Carolina that put the Ravens ahead for good at 10-3 in the third quarter and led the Ravens in that game with 15 carries for 64 yards. In two preseason games, he has 20 carries for a team-best 95 yards and two catches for 19 yards.
Hill, meanwhile, a fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma State in 2019, played 17 snaps in the first preseason game against New Orleans, with five carries for 8 yards and one catch for 4 yards.
Hill was essentially the No. 4 back on a team last year that featured J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Mark Ingram. Hill appeared in 12 games, averaging about a half-dozen offensive snaps a game and finished with 10 carries for 60 yards. He also had five catches for 20 yards.
Hill, though, led the Ravens last year with nine special teams tackles, and the No. 3 back is expected to have a key role on special teams. Williams played just three special teams snaps in the game against Carolina last week, and McCrary played two. For either of them to supplant Hill as the No. 3 back, he will need to show special teams coordinator Chris Horton that he can excel in kick or punt coverage.
“You come out, you play well, you compete, you give great effort, you execute the way we want to execute,” Horton said, “you give yourself a great chance to make this team.”
Harbaugh acknowledged last week that some tough roster decisions loom, noting, “It’s a great problem to have. It’s the problem you work very hard to have.”
Asked after the win at Carolina specifically about the running backs, Harbaugh said, “Every position has to be earned, and that’s one that has to be earned. They’re all doing a very good job, so again, it’s another tough decision.”
TRAINING CAMP NOTEBOOK
PROCHE, ELLIOTT RETURN TO PRACTICE: Wide receiver James Proche was back at practice after missing one day, and safety DeShon Elliott also returned after he sat out the workout Aug. 24. Five receivers remained sidelined: Marquise Brown, Rashod Bateman, Miles Boykin, Sammy Watkins and Deon Cain, though Brown and Cain again did extensive conditioning work on a side field.
Tackles Alejandro Villanueva and Ronnie Stanley, linebacker Justin Houston and cornerback Marcus Peters sat out practice, though they could have been getting a vet day off. In addition to them, the receivers and Hill, absences included quarterback Trace McSorley (back), linebacker Otaro Alaka (knee), cornerback Jimmy Smith (ankle), cornerback Marlon Humphrey (groin) and defensive lineman Derek Wolfe, who missed practice for the second straight day. Tackle Ja’Wuan James (Achilles) and tight end Nick Boyle (knee) remain on the PUP list.
IRATE HARBAUGH SENDS MESSAGE AFTER SPECIAL TEAMS WORKOUT: John Harbaugh clearly saw something he didn’t like during the team’s opening special teams session. Before splitting the team into their offensive and defensive groups as usual, Harbaugh huddled the players together and loudly berated them for a couple of minutes. Maybe he was trying to help motivate his players to reach the finish line after the grind of training camp, but he’s a special teams coach at heart who is a stickler for that part of the game. Something the Ravens were doing bothered him, and in no uncertain terms he let them know it.
POWERS APPEARS TO HAVE INSIDE TRACK TO LEFT GUARD JOB: With Ben Cleveland sidelined by a concussion last week and Tyre Phillips slowed by an ankle injury, Ben Powers has emerged as the favorite to win the left guard job in what was viewed as one of key competitions of training camp. John Harbaugh is not likely to declare anyone the starter just yet, but Powers has started both preseason games at left guard, he’s been available for every practice, and offensive coordinator Greg Roman praised the third-year guard for his play in the 20-3 win over Carolina.
“Right now he’s taking advantage of the opportunity bestowed upon him,” Roman said.
Cleveland, incidentally, left the Aug. 25 workout early for undisclosed reasons.
DEFENSE SHINES ON SCORCHING DAY: On one of the hotter days of training camp, with the team not working at full speed, the defense made several key plays. In an early 11-on-11 run period, Calais Campbell burst through the line to record what probably would have been tackles for loss on three straight plays. Later, Odafe Oweh had a certain sack had it been allowed as his speed was too much for Tyre Phillips. And Justin Madubuike sniffed out a pass play designed for Nate McCrary, who would have been flattened if contact were allowed.
One of Lamar Jackson’s best throws was a floater down the sideline to Mark Andrews, just past the reach of Geno Stone. With so many top receivers sidelined, Andrews’ role as Jackson’s security blanket is even more obvious, and the Ravens continue to have a lot of trouble defending him.
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