The Ravens have one matchup remaining to conclude their preseason slate with a road contest against the rebuilding Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium.
Once again, don’t expect to see quarterback Lamar Jackson, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. or any of the Ravens’ established starters in this game, the last before the Sept. 10 season opener against Houston. Coach John Harbaugh has rested them in the first two games, and it’s unlikely that’ll change Saturday night. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“He wants to, I can tell you that much,” Harbaugh said when asked whether Jackson would play. “That’s all I really have to say about that.”
While Jackson and the starters — minus rookie slot receiver Zay Flowers — are scheduled to sit, there’s plenty to keep an eye on in this one. Specifically, this is the final stretch of game reps that’ll help determine a few of the open starting jobs on the roster.
Josh Johnson will start at quarterback in Jackson’s place, with backup Tyler Huntley recovering from the hamstring injury he suffered against Philadelphia. Johnson will likely run the offense for the first half, with Anthony Brown controlling the second.
The Ravens (1-1) are coming off a dramatic 29-28 loss to the Commanders on Monday that snapped their 24-game win streak in the preseason.
Tampa Bay, transitioning to the post-Tom Brady era, is heading into a rebuild with former No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield as its starting quarterback. Mayfield, who is on his third team since being traded by the Browns a year ago, beat out 2021 second-round pick Kyle Trask for the job. Both are expected to play a half.
Here’s what we’re looking for.
The final stretch of position battles
The Ravens have a good sense of who their starters at a few of the open jobs will be. The competitions at nickel, left guard and running back have been monitored all of camp, and the decisions on those jobs will be announced soon.
For the starting guard position, between John Simpson and rookie sixth-round pick Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu, Harbaugh said Wednesday they won’t announce the winner of the job until after the Buccaneers game.
“I think we’ve got a good handle on all of it,” Harbaugh said. “All the guys have played well, and we’re still rotating guys — you saw in the last game we moved some guys around and got them working in some different spots, so we’ll probably continue to do that through the last preseason game because that’s the way it goes during the season. We’ll probably wait to make any kind of announcements if we do before the first game. We’ll make ’em after the next game with respect for what we have to do Saturday night.”
Simpson is experienced and the favorite for the job. Nobody else has come close to the production he’s had as he’s allowed zero pressures in the preseason, according to Pro Football Focus.
There isn’t a clear answer at nickel. Ar’Darius Washington has been the most consistent player at the role, but the Ravens could go with cornerback Arthur Maulet, who manned the job the last two seasons for Pittsburgh. They could also have a rotation of guys under defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, shuffling between both and second-year star safety Kyle Hamilton, who held the job last season.
At running back, the Ravens have a decision to make for their fourth back after J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill. It’s close between veteran Melvin Gordon and undrafted rookie Keaton Mitchell, who has been shining all month. Based on his contract and versatility on special teams, it feels like Mitchell has an edge over Gordon.
New faces on defense
The Ravens have been active in the last week on the veteran free agent market. Baltimore signed pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney to aid outside linebackers David Ojabo and Oweh Odafe and, following Marlon Humphrey’s foot surgery, it added cornerback Ronald Darby.
Clowney and Darby are tenured veterans who normally wouldn’t play in the preseason, but with the regular season quickly approaching and this being their only opportunity for real action until then, don’t be surprised if they each get a series or two.
Clowney seemed open to the idea when asked by reporters Thursday if he’d like to play.
“It’s the preseason,” Clowney said, “I told the coach same thing: It’s up to you. I’m physically ready. I’m mentally ready. Just let me know ahead of time what you’ve got planned for me and I’ll make sure I’m ready to go.”
Can other rookies stand out?
The talk of the preseason and training camp has been Flowers — and rightfully so — but can any other rookies put on a show in their last opportunity before the regular season? This is the last and most extensive time most of these players get to put good tape together, and it’s important to do that not only for the Ravens but future teams they could sign with.
Against Washington, we saw undrafted rookie tight end Travis Vokolek corral a game-high two touchdowns in the road loss. For Vokolek, who is a long shot to make the final roster given the talent the Ravens have at the position, it was an opportunity to show he belongs in the NFL.
Can anyone else do that?