Officially, the Ravens’ training camp in Owings Mills ended Wednesday. In reality, well, that light at the end of the preseason tunnel is still pretty dim.
“It feels like we’re in the middle of it,” outside linebacker Steven Means said with a grin Tuesday.
The Ravens still have two games to play and two more roster cut-downs to figure out before their regular-season work can begin in earnest. On Sunday, they’ll face the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium, where they can extend their NFL-record preseason winning streak to 22 games.
The nationally televised game will be light on stars, with both teams expected to rest several starters. That won’t rob the matchup of its intrigue, though. Here’s a key Raven to watch at each position.
Quarterback: Tyler Huntley
Lamar Jackson is sitting out Sunday’s game. So is Arizona starter Kyler Murray. Backup Colt McCoy missed the Cardinals’ preseason opener with arm soreness. All of which sets up an intriguing possibility: Huntley and Trace McSorley, who battled in Ravens training camp last summer, facing off as starters.
Huntley impressed in the Ravens’ preseason win over the Tennessee Titans, finishing 16-for-18 for 109 yards and a touchdown, and he could have more playmakers around him Sunday. Huntley typically relies on quick hitters — his longest completion against Tennessee was a 22-yarder to tight end Isaiah Likely — but the Ravens need to sharpen their downfield passing attack. If Huntley could connect on one or two deep shots, it’d help burnish his profile in prime time.
Running back: Mike Davis
With J.K. Dobbins working his way back to full strength and Gus Edwards not yet cleared to practice, Davis remains atop the Ravens’ depth chart. He showed nice vision toward the end of training camp, taking a couple of cutback runs to the second level in practices. He’s also a dependable pass blocker, as he showed on a handful of punishing chip blocks against Tennessee.
The Ravens’ opener didn’t produce much separation in the running back competition — “They all look pretty decent,” coach John Harbaugh said after the game — but with Corey Clement released, there should be more opportunities to go around. At this point in the preseason, Davis doesn’t need to author any highlight-reel runs. A performance that cements his starting credentials wouldn’t hurt, though.
Wide receiver: Jaylon Moore
Moore wasn’t as productive against the Titans as Shemar Bridges (four catches for 62 yards and a touchdown) or Makai Polk (six catches for 43 yards). But he also saw less of the field. Polk got 47 snaps on offense; Bridges had 31. Moore, meanwhile, had his two catches for 15 yards over 26 snaps.
There might still be a job to win at wide receiver, and one preseason game alone won’t decide anything. Moore, after two years on the Ravens’ practice squad, was one of the team’s top receivers early in camp before fading somewhat. Bridges and Polk failed to build on their preseason performances, turning in quiet weeks at camp. Moore’s experience will help his roster chances, but so would a breakout game.
Tight end: Nick Boyle
The Ravens have been cautious with Boyle, who’s avoided setbacks in camp after two seasons of knee troubles. As part of the team’s ramp-up plan, he ended camp sitting out every third day. But after watching the preseason opener from the sideline, Boyle could play Sunday. He said earlier this month that he needed to play in the preseason: “I think those are the kind of reps you can’t get out on the practice field, although you’re in pads.”
Boyle, 29, has dropped weight since last season, but his technique can still make him indispensable as a blocker. He’s looked more and more comfortable in practice, picking up outside linebacker Odafe Oweh in pass protection on long-developing play-action designs. He even knocked Oweh to the ground before releasing into the flat in Monday’s practice.
Offensive line: Tyre Phillips
With left guard front-runner Ben Powers starting at right guard against Tennessee, it was Phillips who opened the game Thursday at left guard. He later moved over to left tackle, where his play dropped off. But Harbaugh said Wednesday that Phillips is “not out of the competition [at left guard] by any stretch.”
Ben Cleveland should also see time at left guard against Arizona, but Phillips is seemingly Powers’ top challenger for the Week 1 job. The 2020 third-round pick moves well in space, has a wide frame and, most importantly, feels he can trust his body to hold up. He’s also impressed in one-on-one battles. “I’ve been nicked up my last two years,” Phillips said Wednesday. “But this year, over the offseason, I did a lot of work on my body, and I feel as healthy as ever.”
Defensive line: Justin Madubuike
Madubuike missed the Ravens’ preseason opener and two weekend practices with migraines, but he had one of his best practices of camp Tuesday, winning his one-on-ones in a pass-rushing drill against starting right guard Kevin Zeitler and reserve guard Kahlil McKenzie.
This is an important preseason for Madubuike, one of the NFL’s better young run defenders and a projected starter along the Ravens’ defensive line. If he can be more disruptive as a pass rusher, his role on third down should grow. Sunday’s game will be a good litmus test: The Cardinals’ projected starting guards, Justin Pugh and Will Hernandez, aren’t close to Zeitler’s level, and Arizona allowed three sacks and eight quarterback hits overall in its opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Outside linebacker: Steven Means
Means’ story is one of the best of the Ravens’ preseason. When the 31-year-old signed in June, he wasn’t exactly a journeyman player; Means played 38 games over his three final healthy seasons in Atlanta, starting 14 games last year for the Falcons. But he also seemed like a long shot to make the Ravens’ 53-man roster.
In camp, though, Means was regularly one of the first outside linebackers out at practice, diligently working on his craft and flashing in team drills. Against Tennessee, he had a sack and three tackles. And on Tuesday, he spoke glowingly of a Ravens franchise that he said “resurrected my career” in 2014, when he first signed with the team despite doubts about his future in football. “Eight years later, I wind up coming back, and it’s a blessing. I owe a lot to this organization.”
Inside linebacker: Kristian Welch
Welch, now in his third year in Baltimore, was quiet against Tennessee, finishing with just two tackles in 35 defensive snaps. He looked a step slow in the open field against quarterback Malik Willis and the Titans’ skill players. Rookie Josh Ross, meanwhile, had a team-high four tackles in 22 defensive snaps and led all Ravens defenders with 15 special teams snaps.
Welch’s familiarity with the Ravens’ defense and his special teams ability are assets in his push to make the team’s 53-man roster. The Ravens probably also don’t have to worry about sneaking undrafted linebackers like Ross or Diego Fagot onto their practice squad, either. But this close to the cut-down deadline, on-the-bubble players have to prove themselves all over again.
Cornerback: Kyle Fuller
If the Ravens’ most established players are sitting out Sunday’s game, Marlon Humphrey figures to have the night off. Marcus Peters is still on the road to recovery. That could mean a starting role at cornerback for Fuller, who hasn’t shied away from taking on the Ravens’ top wide receiver, Rashod Bateman, in camp.
After an up-and-down start to camp, the Baltimore native has helped solidify a secondary that gave Jackson and the Ravens’ passing game headaches over the final week of practices. Starting Cardinals wide receivers Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and DeAndre Hopkins are expected to sit out Sunday’s game, but Fuller could find himself matched up with speedy rotational pieces like Rondale Moore and Andy Isabella. They should present a nice test — and a welcome change of pace — after weeks of battling familiar faces in practice.
Safety: Kyle Hamilton
Every game should offer more clues about how the Ravens plan to use Hamilton this season, even if his Week 1 role is as a third safety behind Marcus Williams and Chuck Clark. Hamilton’s NFL debut wasn’t perfect — he missed a couple of tackles, including a whiff in the red zone that the elusive Willis turned into a touchdown run — but there were more positives than negatives.
The Ravens moved Hamilton around the field before the snap, lining him up as a box safety and as a deep safety. The first-round pick looked fluid and comfortable in coverage shells that used both one and two high safeties. He showed an awareness of passing concepts. He flew in from deep to scoop up a fumble. He even played 10 snaps on special teams, where his size and athleticism stand out.
Specialist: Jordan Stout
Stout had an “outstanding” debut against Tennessee, special teams coordinator Chris Horton said, averaging 47.8 yards per punt on four attempts. Could he get a look at some field-goal attempts in the preseason? Stout, who kicked at Penn State, booted a couple from 50-plus yards in practice Wednesday, including one with Justin Tucker as the unlikely holder.
“If it comes up, I think that would be a consideration,” Horton said. “Again, he has done it all. But our job is to see how the game goes, see what happens and just let him play the game. And if it comes up, we’ll handle it the right way.”
Preseason, Week 2
Sunday, 8 p.m.
TV: Ch. 45
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM