Breaking Down Five Position Battles After Three Preseason Games
With three preseason games in the books, there are five key position battles – either for starting jobs or roster spots – that aren't locked up.
The folks at Baltimore Beatdown analyzed the five over the weekend, and several other media members have chimed in:
1. Inside linebacker: Patrick Onwuasor vs. Kamalei Correa
Correa had been running with the first-team defense all training camp and preseason until Saturday night. That's when Onwuasor, or "Peanut," started alternating defensive series with Correa. The move indicated that Correa is not a lock for the starting job next to C.J. Mosley, and the Ravens want to get a better look at Onwuasor.* *The former undrafted rookie played 55 snaps to Correa's 38. Onwuasor finished with an impressive three tackles, one quarterback hit, one pass breakup, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
"[This] was one of the more interesting developments of the third preseason game," wrote WNST's Luke Jones. "He's only 227 pounds, but Onwuasor plays with a mean streak that was evident in his rookie season and just continues to improve."
2. Center: Jeremy Zuttah vs. Ryan Jensen
This competition will not only be impacted by the play of these two, but also the availability of left tackle Ronnie Stanley. If Stanley isn't ready to go by Week 1, Zuttah and Jensen could play at center and left guard, respectively, with James Hurst at left tackle.
"Jeremy Zuttah was not awful in his 'debut' as a Raven," wrote The Beatdown's Logan Levy. "Zuttah played center with the second-team while Jensen moved to left guard. However, Jensen had an up-and-down night. He was fairly impressive in pass protection and run blocking but his only error cost the Ravens the football. It was a miscommunication between himself and Josh Woodrum. Should that cost him his job? Probably not, but the competition did get a little closer after Saturday's game. Jensen is still my pick to be the starting center and the good news is that Zuttah showed he will be a great backup."
3. Left guard: Matt Skura vs. James Hurst vs. Jermaine Eluemunor
With Stanley out Saturday night, the starting offensive line from left to right was Hurst, Matt Skura, Jensen, Marshal Yanda and Austin Howard.
"If Ronnie Stanley is to miss an extended period of time during the regular season, this unit that started tonight could be effective," wrote Levy. "The protection was not too awful and with Joe Flacco back in the lineup, this offense will improve greatly. However, it is hard to really get a feel for how the Ravens brass feel about this competition due to the various moving parts."
If Stanley is ready, then "all signs are pointing to Hurst being the starter at this moment," Levy added.
4. Punt returner: Michael Campanaro vs. Keenan Reynolds
This is one of the position battles that might already have a winner with Campanaro. He returned four punts for 43 yards against the Buffalo Bills, good for a 10.8-yard average. Reynolds returned one punt for four yards. Levy predicts Reynolds will make the Ravens practice squad.
"It's looking like Michael Campanaro will hold on to the punt returner job," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "Campanaro's path became clearer when undrafted rookie Tim White suffered a season-ending thumb injury. Keenan Reynolds is behind Campanaro on the depth chart."
5. Sixth receiver: Chris Matthews vs. Quincy Adeboyejo
We know who the essential locks are: Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin, Breshad Perriman and Chris Moore. Then, if Campanaro has indeed won the returner competition, he takes up a fifth spot. And the sixth?
"Neither player was able to really make a strong case for themselves," wrote Levy. "Matthews finished the game with one reception for 15 yards while Adeboyejo finished with one reception for seven yards. Matthews still has the edge, but Adeboyejo is not too far behind. This competition will come down to the final preseason game on Thursday night in New Orleans."
There are others who could make a push the final spot, including Griff Whalen, Vince Mayle and C.J. Board. But Zrebiec doesn't think anyone has played well enough.
Breshad Perriman and Marlon Humphrey Show Signs of Pending Returns
For the first time in about four weeks, Perriman made an on-field appearance in front of the media. He's been sidelined with a hamstring injury suffered in training camp on Aug. 1.
"During pre-game warmups though, Perriman ran, planted and cut without hesitation while catching passes from wide receivers coach Bobby Engram," wrote The Sun's Edward Lee. "Perriman worked out for about 45 minutes before walking into the locker room."
Joining Perriman in pre-game warmups was another Ravens first-round draft pick, Marlon Humphrey. He had missed time in practice, briefly returned for part of the Miami Dolphins game, and then took more time off. Lee said Humphrey looked unhampered while sprinting on the field.
"Perriman and Humphrey showed encouraging signs before the game," wrote Jones. "Perriman ran at three-quarters speed and was cutting and running routes effectively while Humphrey looked like someone ready to return to the field, backpedaling and sprinting at full speed."
Meanwhile, tight end Maxx Williams was a surprise absence from the game. He was the standout offensive player last week with a 40-yard catch-and-run, showing big strides since undergoing complicated knee surgery this offseason.
The New Question for Jaylen Hill
Undrafted rookie Jaylen Hill has been so good and so consistent since he first tried out for the team in rookie minicamp that it almost seems inevitable that he'll make the 53-man roster.
In fact, it appears to be such a lock that Jones says the question surrounding Hill needs to change.
"Rather than asking whether Hill makes the roster, I'm now wondering how long it will be before he carves out a meaningful role on the defense," Jones wrote. "Lardarius Webb has had a strong summer at the nickel, but there's a reason why he was moved to safety two years ago."
"It's cool to see how hard the veterans are rooting for Jaylen Hill," added The Sun's Childs Walker. "When it comes to young players, the veterans don't care about hype or scouting reports. The way to perk their attention is to make actual game-changing plays. Hill has done that consistently, and when he officially makes the Ravens in about a week, his teammates will be thrilled for him."
Will Taquan Mizzell Make the Team After Impressive Outing vs. Bills?
The offense lacked spark for most of Saturday night until undrafted rookie Taquan "Smoke" Mizzell changed things around.
Mizzell has shown versatility both as a rusher and a pass catcher out of the backfield. He caught all six passes targeted to him, tallying 54 yards and the offense's only touchdown. Through three preseason games, Mizzell leads the team in carries (31), rushing yards (103), receptions (nine) and receiving yards (81).
His versatility and consistency has many asking whether Mizzell will go from "long shot" to legitimate contender to make the team. It could come down to a numbers game. With Terrance West and Buck Allen ahead on the depth chart, Mizzell's chances may be tied to the health of Danny Woodhead, who is nursing a reported hamstring injury.
"His skill set is similar to Woodhead's, which hurts his roster chances and makes him intriguing at the same time," Jones wrote.
Za'Darius Smith Plays His Way Off Roster Bubble
When training camp began, third-year outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith was considered by the media to be on the roster bubble and needing a strong preseason to make the team.
Well, three preseason games in, and Walker believes Smith has done just that.
"With the influx of defensive talent from this year's draft, there was a chance Smith would be cut or relegated to a spot deep on the bench if he did not play well," Walker wrote. "The Ravens were certainly disappointed with his lack of progress last season. The player they'd envisioned as Pernell McPhee 2.0 was nowhere in evidence.
"But Smith has put himself on the right side of the put-up or shut-up equation the past two games. On Saturday, he ended Buffalo's most promising drive of the first quarter when he bullied his way into the backfield and forced Nathan Peterman into a near-interception. That combination of brawn and quickness was what excited the Ravens about Smith in the first place."
Vontaze Burfict Will Miss Ravens-Bengals Season-Opener
When the Bengals host the Ravens on Sept. 10 for the opening game of the season, they will do so without two of their top defenders.
Cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones had already been suspended for the game due to a violation of the league's personal conduct policy. And last night, it was announced that linebacker Vontaze Burfict will be suspended for the first five games for this hit:
The NFL implemented a new rule that protects players running pass routes, deeming them defenseless players. Burfict plans on appealing the suspension and the Bengals are standing by his side. If the appeal is not settled before the Week 1 matchup, then Burfict could end up playing.
"The film shows that the hit was legal, that Vontaze engaged his opponent from the front, and that contact was shoulder-to-chest," the team wrote in a statement. "The Club will support Vontaze in the appeal process."
Added The MMQB.com's Peter King: "With virtually all other players in football, the Aug. 19 crushing hit on defenseless receiver Anthony Sherman of the Chiefs would not have resulted in a suspension by the NFL. But Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict is not like many other players. He is one of the most fined and suspended players for egregious hits in recent NFL history."
- "Ryan Mallett, who is filling in for the injured Joe Flacco (back), threw the ball better in this preseason game, but he still failed to consistently move the ball down the field," wrote Hensley. "He completed 6 of 10 passes for 58 yards (15 of which came on a 15-yard pass on third-and-17). ... Josh Woodrum failed to capitalize on his first snaps with the starting offense this preseason and make a concerted run at the backup job." [ESPN]
- "Watching Justin Tucker make tackles or even pick up a fumble in Miami last week makes for a fun story until he suffers a close call like he did on Saturday night," wrote Jones. "The Ravens really need their All-Pro kicker to show more restraint, especially in a meaningless preseason game." [WNST]
- Head Coach John Harbaugh promised that Flacco will be ready for the season opener in Cincinnati. "Being back for the Bengals game is one thing," wrote Mike Florio. "Being ready for the Bengals game is another. And that's now the primary concern for Ravens fans who know that Flacco will play in two weeks. They just don't know how well he'll play." [ProFootballTalk.com]