There were no ground-shaking bombshells as the Ravens pared their roster to 53 players Saturday.
I’d say they produced a few minor tremors, not bombshells.
They kept eight defensive linemen, which is probably more than they need, but they couldn’t stand to part ways with any talent at their deepest position.
They’re going without a true fullback, which sounds interesting except plenty of other teams do it.
But they didn’t cut a projected starter, like they did with Justin Forsett last year, and they didn’t part ways with any familiar veterans. Among those who received bad news Saturday, the most prominent names were Matt Skura, Josh Woodrum and Taquan Mizzell, none of whom have ever played a regular-season game in the NFL.
Yes, it was that kind of cutdown day.
Obviously, the depth of their offensive line was the Ravens’ biggest concern coming out of Thursday night’s preseason finale. When I published my 53-man projection after that game, I had Skura, Jeremy Zuttah and De’Ondre Wesley all making the squad. But none did because the front office quickly traded for two centers, Luke Bowanko and Tony Bergstrom, and went with one less O-lineman than expected.
It’s unclear whether Bowanko and Bergstrom have any chance of unseating Ryan Jensen as the starting center – my guess is no, at least not for the season opener. But the new guys now constitute Plan B at center and also possibly at guard. Stay tuned on that.
For the record, I had 48 of the 53 players who made it. The five I missed were the two new O-linemen, receiver Vince Mayle, defensive lineman Willie Henry and cornerback Maurice Canady, who will quickly be shifted to the category of an injured reserve player who can return during the season.
I didn’t pick Henry because I didn’t think they’d go with eight defensive linemen, but they did, opening the possibility of a trade. I had them taking Chris Matthews as a receiver who contributes on special teams (see below) but they kept Mayle instead.
As for the expected Canady move, that will open up a roster spot that presumably will go to an offensive player, since the Ravens currently have 22 offensive and 28 defensive players.
By cutting both Ricky Ortiz and Lorenzo Taliaferro, who were competing for the fullback job, the Ravens seemingly indicated they’ll use Patrick Ricard in that role.
An undrafted free agent defensive lineman, Ricard was given a tryout as a blocking back during training camp, and the coaches liked what they saw.
It will be interesting to see if Ricard can handle the job in regular-season games. If the Ravens are going to make good on their pledge to improve their running game, they need a solid blocking back.
The knee injury that sidelined veteran linebacker Albert McClellan for the season didn’t set off major alarms among the fans. McClellan wasn’t penciled in to start.
But inside the Ravens’ front office, the loss of McClellan was deemed a significant setback. McClellan has been a key special-teams contributor for years while providing invaluable depth with his ability to man every linebacker slot.
His absence was central to what went down Friday and Saturday as the Ravens cut down to 53 players.
In a literal sense, McClellan’s injury opened up a job that went to Bam Bradley, one of three undrafted rookie free agents who made the team along with Jaylen Hill and Ricard.
But in a broader sense, McClellan’s absence underscored the importance of paying heed to special-teams play when filling out the roster. While the Ravens are in great shape with specialists Justin Tucker, Sam Koch and Morgan Cox, they also have coverage and blocking units, and the coverage units have taken a massive hit.
McClellan’s injury means the Ravens are going forward without nine of their top 12 special-teams tacklers in 2016. Patrick Onwuasor, Anthony Levine Sr. and Chris Moore are the only holdovers.
In other words, they need new blood – really need it given that their likely formula for success, at least early in the season, starts with strong play from their defense and special teams.
Bradley, Mayle and Chuck Clark are three guys whose chances of sticking were helped immeasurably by their potential to contribute on special teams.
While the decision to cut former Navy star Keenan Reynolds was no surprise, Reynolds is a sentimental favorite who has shown great improvement since entering the Ravens’ program more than a year ago. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Ravens give him another year on their practice squad with the idea that he might be ready to contribute in 2018.