We're at the midway point of the preseason, with several Ravens trying to make their case for starting roles, more snaps, or coveted roster spots.
The starters got a good chunk of time on the field, a full half of action against the Dallas Cowboys Saturday night.
Below is an overview of how the 37-30 victory against the Cowboys affected the stock of several players:
Ravens secondary:Cornerback was one of the positions the Ravens didn't want to sustain an injury. The position was already thin coming into the game, and* *left even thinner after top corner Jimmy Smith sustained a chest injury. It's unclear how severe the injury is and when Smith will return (x-rays were negative and he was seen smiling on the sideline in the second half), but with Lardarius Webb (back) and Asa Jackson (ankle) already nursing injuries, losing Smith would be a big blow. The reserve corners played well against Cowboys second-string quarterback Brandon Weeden. Chykie Brown came up with a one-handed pass breakup after closing a gap. Dominique Franks gave up a touchdown to receiver Dez Bryant, but made up for it with a physical hit to cause a pass breakup. Getting their starters back on the field is critical.
Wide receiver Deonte Thompson:The* *third-year player is locked in one of the most competitive battles on the team. If Thompson can't separate himself from the pack on offense, then his special teams ability could give him an edge. The former rookie free agent had a huge 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, showcasing his blazing speed. He followed that up with another solid return of 50 yards. If the Ravens keep six receivers, it could be between Thompson, journeyman Kamar Aiken and rookie Michael Campanaro. Thompson made a big statement tonight.
Safety Brynden Trawick:The second-year player wants to show he deserves to keep his spot on the 53-man roster.*He *helped his cause with a leaping interception, covering a ton of space in the backfield. He ran down the Weeden rainbow from inside the numbers, and was able to keep his toes in bounds to complete the pick. The turnover led to the starting offense's only touchdown of the game on a 97-yard drive. It's the type of play making the bubble player needs to show for a spot, but he has to be consistent. The bad news is he dropped a potential second interception later on when a pass hit him right in the hands. He also missed a tackle on the final play of the third quarter, leading to a Dallas touchdown.
Wide receiver Torrey Smith's route running and hands:Isn't Steve Smith Sr. supposed to be the wideout known for route running and hands? The elder Smith must be rubbing off on his younger counterpart, who is a sponge at practice. Torrey Smith ran an excellent 19-yard right corner route. And with a Dallas defender in tight coverage, Smith went up and snatched the ball out of the air with strong hands, all while keeping his feet in bounds for the score. Smith finished last season with four touchdowns, and would love to get the number up in 2014. More touchdowns is what could put Smith in the Pro Bowl discussion.
Running back Bernard Pierce:The* *Ravens are getting ready for Ray Rice's two-game suspension, giving Pierce the start with the first-team offense against the Cowboys. Pierce showed signs that he's ready for the role, rushing for 55 yards on just seven carries, including a 30-yarder for a 7.9-yard per rush average. Pierce showed power, tackle-breaking ability and physicality. Reserves Lorenzo Taliaferro and Justin Forsett – two completely different backs in style – were also impressive in the rotation behind a stout offensive line, but need to hold onto the football. In two preseason games, the running game looks primed for a bounce-back season after finishing 30th in rushing yards last year.
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor: With quarterback Joe Flacco's signature durability, the preseason offers Taylor his biggest chance for on-field action. The backup quarterback had Aiken wide open in the back of the end zone in the third quarter, but overthrew his target while throwing on the run to his right. Taylor is athletic and can move the ball with his legs, but the Ravens would like to see him be more consistent through the air.
*Fullback Kyle Juszczyk: *In his second NFL season, Juszczyk is showing he's taking a big step from his rookie campaign. The fullback is a serious multi-dimensional threat. Not only is he a reliable receiving weapon, but he is growing as a lead blocker. He had a solid isolation block, leading to Taliaferro's 3-yard run where the running back was hardly touched.
Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee:Watch out for McPhee, who could be in store for a big season. He is quietly having a strong preseason, which continued against the Cowboys. He laid a lickin' on Weeden in the second quarter for a sack,* *added another quarterback hit later on and added pressures on several other occasions. McPhee has dealt with knee injuries throughout his NFL career, and could do some damage as a pass rusher in sub packages if he can stay healthy.
Wide receiver Michael Campanaro:The rookie came on strong in training camp with quickness and solid route running, but he was quiet in Dallas, especially on offense. Campanaro didn't notch any receptions, but got action as a punt and kick returner. He had three punt returns for a total of 16 yards, and one kickoff return for 30 yards. Not bad, but he was outshined by Thompson in special teams work.
Quarterback Keith Wenning: The sixth-round rookie stepped back for his first pass of his NFL career, but it likely wasn't the start he dreamed of. On the play, Wenning was sacked and subsequently fumbled the ball, leading to a turnover and a Cowboys touchdown. Things didn't get much better for Wenning, who finished 2-of-4 for 23 yards, two sacks and one lost fumble. The Ravens need to decide if they want to keep three quarterbacks on their roster, or try to sneak Wenning onto the practice squad.