Already limping into the regular season after injuries sidelined several key players, the Ravens’ 2021 prospects suffered another serious blow — really two of them — in practice Sept. 9 as both running back Gus Edwards and cornerback Marcus Peters went down with serious knee injuries, according to NFL Network.
Only the first portion of practice is open to the media during the regular season, and both Edwards and Peters were on the field for individual drills. The team’s injury report listed both players as limited, the designation used when players are injured during practice.
NFL Network later reported that both players had indeed suffered season-ending injuries.
Head coach John Harbaugh had met with the media before practice began and is not scheduled to speak again until Sept. 11.
Edwards’ injury adds to a stunning turn of events for a group that was expected to anchor the league’s No. 1 rushing attack.
The Ravens now have lost their presumed top three backs — J.K. Dobbins, Edwards and Justice Hill — to season-ending injuries in a span of two weeks. Dobbins suffered a torn ACL in the final preseason game at Washington Aug. 28, and Hill reportedly suffered a torn Achilles in practice last week. Both those players are already on injured reserve.
That leaves undrafted second-year player Ty’Son Williams, who has never played in an NFL regular-season game, as the Ravens’ presumptive No. 1 back four days before the season opener and as the only back on the roster who was with the team this summer.
Undrafted rookie Nate McCrary, who was headed to the practice squad after being released in the final cutdown, was claimed via waivers by the Denver Broncos.
General manager Eric DeCosta has been furiously working the phones this week, signing former New York Jets and Carolina Panthers back Trenton Cannon to the 53-man roster and Pro Bowl back Le’Veon Bell to the practice squad Sept. 7. In the wake of Edwards’ injury, ESPN reported that the Ravens would be signing free-agent back Devonta Freeman to the practice squad, while The Athletic reported that the Ravens were close to signing free-agent back Latavius Murray to the active roster.
Freeman, Bell and former Georgia back Elijah Holyfield had all worked out for the Ravens Sept. 6.
Unlike Bell, who was not in any training camp this summer, Freeman and Murray had spent the preseason with the New Orleans Saints before being let go, so they figure to be more game-ready than Bell for the Ravens’ Week 1 matchup at Las Vegas Sept. 13.
Speaking before practice Sept. 9, Harbaugh had not ruled out Bell for the Raiders game, saying, “Yes, I think there’s a chance.”
Freeman had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with the Atlanta Falcons in 2015 and 2016, earning Pro Bowl recognition both years. The Falcons released him after the 2019 season, just two seasons after he was signed to a five-year extension.
He was signed last September by the New York Giants and totaled 54 carries for 172 yards in five games.
Murray is entering his eighth season in the NFL, spending the last two with the Saints. He posted 146 carries for 656 yards and four touchdowns in 15 games last year. His best season came in a Pro Bowl campaign with the Oakland Raiders in 2015, when he ran for 1,066 yards and six touchdowns. He provides a pass-catching option for quarterback Lamar Jackson as well, having caught 185 passes during his career.
Cannon is viewed more as a special teams option and No. 3 back, and it’s not like he has much more extensive option of the Ravens’ playbook than Freeman or Murray; he practiced with the team for the first time Sept. 7.
This is not exactly what the Ravens envisioned when they reported for camp in late July with Super Bowl aspirations.
Averett next man up
Unlike Edwards’ injury, Peters’ injury hits the Ravens at a position of considerable depth, but it is still a massive loss for a defense that has designs on being one of the league’s best again this year.
Peters, 28, is a three-time Pro Bowl pick and one of the most dynamic defensive players in the league. He and Marlon Humphrey formed what many viewed as the league’s cornerback duo. Since entering the league in 2015, Peters has recorded 31 interceptions, six of which he returned for touchdowns. Both totals are the best in the league in that span.
Last season, Peters finished with 52 tackles, four forced fumbles and a team-best four interceptions.
Peters had spoken to the media just an hour before practice began Sept. 9, and he appeared to be relaxed, engaged, excited for his second full season in Baltimore and eager for the buzz that was to come with the season-opener being played on “Monday Night Football,” and in Las Vegas no less.
“I know how it was like playing in the ‘Black Hole,'” said Peters, an Oakland native. “If they can bring that to Vegas, it will be special. It’s got the lights, the glitz, and the glam, but it’s time to play football.”
Peters’ injury likely opens the door for Anthony Averett to assume a starting role. Averett, a former fourth-round pick, is entering the final year of his rookie deal. He has made seven starts in three years, but defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale and several players have said Averett would likely be starting on a lot of NFL teams that didn’t feature both Humphrey and Peters.
Last year, Averett played in 10 games, with four starts, and recorded 27 tackles and seven passes defensed.
Veteran Jimmy Smith could be another option, though he is still working back from an ankle injury that sidelined him most of training camp. He returned to practice Sept. 8 and was not listed on the team’s official injury report on Sept. 9, so he could be an option as well.
Peters’ injury also could create a larger role for cornerback Chris Westry, the 6-foot-4 corner who won a roster spot as a long-shot candidate this summer with an outstanding preseason.
Update: The Ravens announced the Devonta Freeman and Latavius Murray signings.