Roster Analysis: Lock, Bubble Or Long Shot?
Many Ravens players will only get one more shot to make a final impression.
Following Saturday night's preseason contest against the Washington Redskins, NFL teams will have to trim their rosters down from 90 to 75 by August 26.
That means players on the roster bubble will need to make a statement – much like wide receiver Deonte Thompson did with his 108-yard kickoff return against the Cowboys – to prove they belong.
WNST's Luke Jones gave his breakdown of the Ravens roster heading into the third preseason game, outlined below in three main categories: lock, bubble and long shot. Remember, this is just one person's opinion, and coaches may have a totally different point of view.
For Jones' reasoning behind his roster positioning, check it out here.
LOCK: Joe Flacco, Tyrod Taylor
BUBBLE: Keith Wenning
LONG SHOT: None
RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS
LOCK: Bernard Pierce, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Kyle Juszczyk
BUBBLE: Justin Forsett
LONG SHOT: Cierre Wood, Fitz Toussaint, Shaun Chapas
SUSPENDED: Ray Rice (2 games)
LOCK: Steve Smith Sr., Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, Marlon Brown
BUBBLE: Michael Campanaro, Kamar Aiken, Deonte Thompson
LONG SHOT: Jeremy Butler, LaQuan Williams, Mike Willie, Jace Davis
LOCK: Dennis Pitta, Crockett Gillmore, Owen Daniels
LONG SHOT: Phillip Supernaw, Nathan Overbay
LOCK: Eugene Monroe, Kelechi Osemele, Jeremy Zuttah, Marshal Yanda, Rick Wagner, Gino Gradkowski, John Urschel
BUBBLE: Jah Reid, A.Q. Shipley, James Hurst, Will Rackley, Ryan Jensen
LONG SHOT: Brett Van Sloten, Reggie Stephens, David Mims, Parker Graham
LOCK: Haloti Ngata, Chris Canty, Brandon Williams, DeAngelo Tyson, Timmy Jernigan
BUBBLE: A.J. Pataiali'i, Derrick Hopkins
LONG SHOT: Levi Brown, Jamie Meder
INJURED: Terrence Cody (physically unable to perform list), Brent Urban (season-ending ACL), Kapron Lewis-Moore (season-ending Achilles)
LOCK: Daryl Smith, C.J. Mosley, Elvis Dumervil, Courtney Upshaw, Terrell Suggs, Arthur Brown, Pernell McPhee
BUBBLE: Albert McClellan, Josh Bynes, John Simon
LONG SHOT: Zachary Orr, Nick DiMarco, D.J. Roberts, Austin Spitler
LOCK: Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, Chykie Brown, Asa Jackson
BUBBLE: Dominique Franks, Tramain Jacobs
LONG SHOT: Sammy Seamster, Deji Olatoye, Marrio Norman
LOCK: Matt Elam, Darian Stewart, Terrence Brooks, Jeromy Miles
BUBBLE: Brynden Trawick, Anthony Levine, Omar Brown
LONG SHOT: None
SUSPENDED: Will Hill (first six games)
LOCK: Sam Koch, Morgan Cox, Justin Tucker
LONG SHOT: Richie Leone
Ravens Tackling 'Wasn't Very Good'
The Ravens defense has come up with game-changing plays in two preseason games – five forced turnovers, a touchdown and short-yardage stops in crucial situations – but there's one area they admit they want to get better:
"It all falls on tackling and getting guys down," second-year safety Matt Elam told The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. "People are going to make plays in this league. You just have to tackle them down before they get to the first-down marker. … Tackling is a big thing for us to emphasize this week. [We] have to get better at that."
Elam missed a tackle Saturday night on big-bodied Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant, leading to a 22-yard gain on the Cowboys' first drive. But he wasn't the only one to miss, and the safety corps seemed to have the most trouble.
There was safety Brynden Trawick failing to bring down Cowboys tight end James Hanna, who bounced off Trawick's shoulder on his way to the end zone. Then safety Omar Brown was "bulled over" by running back Ryan Williams, leading to an eventual touchdown to bring the game to 34-30.
Head Coach John Harbaugh said after the game that the second-team defense got "a little sloppy" and the tackling "wasn't very good."
"Several times, the Ravens had the Cowboys stopped for what should have been modest gains only to watch the offensive player break free from an attempted tackle and pick up big yardage," Zrebiec wrote.
"The first-team defense hasn't been immune to struggles either. Still, truly evaluating the group has been difficult, given what they've been up against and how much Pees has held back, not wanting to give away too much in the preseason."
McPhee 'Raising Hell' On Quarterbacks
One defender who stuck out for all the right reasons was outside linebacker Pernell McPhee.
Teammate Lewis-Moore was watching from home as he recovers from Achilles surgery, and couldn't contain his excitement on Twitter.
"Pernell McPhee raising hell on quarterbacks in Dallas tonight. #Ravens"PHEEEEE," Lewis-Moore wrote.
The 6-foot-3, 280-pound McPhee absolutely pummeled quarterback Brandon Weeden, which can be seen – and heard – in the video below.
In addition to the sack, McPhee added another quarterback hit and three hurries on just 15 pass rushes. It was enough for Pro Football Focus (PFF) to give the fourth-year player a plus-3.3 pass rush grade and plus-4.8 mark for the whole game.
"He won on both sides, beating left tackle Jeremy Parnell for the sack and later getting around RT John Wetzel for the hit," wrote PFF's Steve Palazzolo.
"McPhee certainly did some damage against the Cowboys backup offensive line, but he also got involved against the starters, beating LT Tyron Smith to affect a run play early in the first quarter. McPhee adds some solid depth to a well-rounded outside linebacker corps in Baltimore."
Pierce Looks In 'Mid-Season Form'
Bernard Pierce is providing peace to mind as the season approaches with Ray Rice facing a two-game suspension.
Not only does CSNBaltimore.com's Clifton Brown believe Pierce is ready to shoulder the starting role, but the third-year player already looks to be in mid-season form.
"Running with power and confidence, Bernard Pierce is giving the Ravens less reason to worry about Ray Rice's upcoming two-game suspension," wrote Brown.
"Pierce delivered his second consecutive strong performance Saturday night. The Ravens' zone blocking scheme under offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak seems to suit Pierce – a one-cut downhill runner who is finding holes and attacking them aggressively."
Time To Put Smith, Webb In Bubble Wrap
It may be time to play it safe.
We have just under three weeks until the regular season, and for those 20 days, the Ravens must keep top corners Jimmy Smith and Ladarius Webb on the shelf, says ESPN's Jamison Hensley.
"Put a red jersey on them so no one hits them in practice. Heck, put them in bubble wrap if it ensures they'll be able to line up when games matter in three weeks," Hensley wrote.
"Teams can't play scared and rest every starter for the entire preseason. But there are instances when you have to play it safe. For the Baltimore Ravens, it's time to be safe and smart with their starting cornerbacks."
Webb hasn't played since the second day of training camp because of a back injury. Then Smith hurt his chest on Sunday night doing this (mobile users tap "View in browser" at the top of the page to view):
The game broadcast showed Smith coughing up blood on the sideline and he never returned to the game. He was also seen laughing and joking around during the second half after doctors looked at him. The Baltimore Sun reported Smith was still coughing up blood after the game, and told the newspaper:
"I don't know what is wrong with me. On the field, I was throwing up blood. The X-rays came back negative, but I still don't know what is the problem. I don't want to say I'm OK, or it is one thing, and then it is something else. I really don't know."
Head Coach John Harbaugh said Smith should be fine, and he indicated earlier that Webb could be back for the second half of the preseason.
But even if they can play, Hensley says they shouldn't until the Sept. 7 season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. The depth is too thin, he says, with Asa Jackson (ankle) out for an indefinite period of time and Aaron Ross (Achilles) out for the season.
Plus, the free agent market doesn't appear to offer a solid solution.
"There are really no easy fixes here. If free agents like Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson could help, each would be in some team's training camp by now," Hensley wrote. "The best bet is looking at the cornerbacks who get cut when teams trim their rosters to 53 before the regular season. Teams don't release good cornerbacks, but there could be a player who is better than what's on the Ravens roster right now.
"Come the season opener, the Ravens may be in decent shape at cornerback if Smith, Webb and Jackson are all healthy enough to play."
Roll your eyes, be cynical, whatever. 260,000 new donors to the ALS Association since the Ice Bucket Challenge began. Amazing.
— P. Schrager (@PSchrags) August 18, 2014
@334upshaw41: Yes sir!! Lol can't beat this! #happy #proud #TD #ravennation #teamUpshaw [Instagram]
@digital_12 [Jacoby Jones]: Happy birthday to my mother! Most of those gray hairs is cause of me lol.. Y'all fallow her and wish her a happy bday @crescentcitymimi [Instagram]
If Deonte Thompson doesn't make #Ravens, he will get a look from teams on his return skills based on the tape tonight.
— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) August 17, 2014
— Ravens Community (@RavensCommunity) August 17, 2014
Haha, cameras caught Terrell Suggs having fun with Jacoby Jones. The wide receiver had a smooth 38-yard catch and run against the Cowboys. Well, it was smooth until he appeared to trip over his own feet to end the play. Suggs was on the sidelines, impersonating Jones' stumble.