In­juries mud­dle ros­ter pic­ture

Los­ing Wat­son and Dixon leaves team short at tight end and run­ning back

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jeff Zre­biec

When train­ing camp be­gan over a month ago, the Ravens were said to have an ex­cess of op­tions at run­ning back and tight end.

In a 90-minute span Satur­day night, they lost a po­ten­tial key per­former at each po­si­tion, which com­pli­cates their forth­com­ing ros­ter de­ci­sions.

Pro­jected start­ing tight end Ben­jamin Wat­son tore his right Achilles ten­don on the first play from scrim­mage in the Ravens’ 30-9 vic­tory over the vis­it­ing Detroit Li­ons and will be lost for the sea­son.

An MRI Sun­day showed that rookie run­ning back Ken­neth Dixon suf­fered MCL dam­age in his left knee when­hewashit­byex-RavenHaloti Ngata on a goal-line carry in the sec­ond quar­ter. Dixon won’t re­quire surgery but is ex­pected to miss around four weeks.

The Ravens’ reg­u­lar-sea­son opener against the Buf­falo Bills is less than two weeks away. Con­sid­er­ing how Dixon was helped off the field, un­able to put any weight on his left leg, and how the leg bent awk­wardly, Sun­day’s devel­op­ment qual­i­fies Pre­sea­son fi­nale Thurs­day, 8 p.m. TV: Chs. 11, 7, Com­cast Sport­sNet Ra­dio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

as good news for the Ravens.

“It’s re­ally tough. Ken, we’ll see what goes on. I hope we’d have him back. Ben, he’s been a great team­mate, and I think was re­ally de­vel­op­ing into a weapon for us,” Ravens quar­ter­back Joe Flacco said af­ter mak­ing his pre­sea­son de­but Satur­day.

Wat­son, who signed a two-year deal with the Ravens this off­sea­son af­ter a ca­reer-best sea­son with the New Or­leans Saints, turns 36 in De­cem­ber, and now faces a long re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion process. Ravens out­side line­backer Ter­rell Suggs, who twice has had to come back from Achilles ten­don tears, called Wat­son’s injury “heart­break­ing.”

The Ravens, mean­while, are left with some sig­nif­i­cant ques­tions at tight end, ini­tially con­sid­ered a po­si­tion of strength.

Den­nis Pitta (fin­ger) and Maxx Wil­liams (undis­closed) are both sidelined with in­juries. Nick Boyle (10 games) and Dar­ren Waller (four games) will start the reg­u­lar sea­son on the re­serve-sus­pended list. That leaves Crock­ett Gill­more, who has dealt with nu­mer­ous phys­i­cal prob­lems over the past two years, and Daniel Brown, who con­verted from wide re­ceiver this off­sea­son, as the only other tight ends.

“This is an or­ga­ni­za­tion that has dealt with those kinds of things since I’ve been here, and we’ve al­ways had guys step up,” Gill­more said Satur­day night.

If Gill­more can stay healthy and Pitta and Wil­liams re­turn to prac­tice rel­a­tively soon, as the team hopes, the Ravens should be fine. Full­back Kyle Juszczyk, whom of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Marc Trest­man would like to get more in­volved in the pass­ing game, also could be used in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions. Waller and Boyle are po­ten­tial re­in­force­ments down the road.

But for now, the Ravens, who fre­quently use mul­ti­ple-tight-end sets, are largely de­pen­dent on Gill­more, Wil­liams and Pitta getting and staying healthy. That’s been tough for all three play­ers.

“We were here be­fore [Wat­son] was, so I don’t know what added pres­sure there would be,” Gill­more said when asked about Wat­son’s injury. “We’ve done this be­fore.”

The Ravens will have to cut their ros­ter from 90 to 75 be­fore 4 p.m. Tues­day, two days be­fore their pre­sea­son fi­nale against the New Or­leans Saints — a game in which few, if any, starters are ex­pected to play. They’ll then have to get down to the 53-man limit by Satur­day af­ter­noon.

One of their big­gest ques­tions was whether they could af­ford to carry four tight ends, which might have left them thin at an­other po­si­tion. Wat­son’s injury could makethata­moot­point— or the un­cer­tainty around Wil­liams and Pitta could prompt the team to carry four tight ends any­way.

There is still the mat­ter of how many run­ning backs the Ravens will keep. In seven of coach John Har­baugh’s eight sea­sons, they have kept three run­ning backs and a full­back. This pre­sea­son, four run­ning backs have seen some play­ing time with the start­ing of­fense.

Dixon’s injury could com­pli­cate the Ravens’ decision at run­ning back, in terms both of how many the Ravens keep and who gets the bulk of the car­ries. But hav­ing only three tight ends would make it eas­ier to carry five backs.

Dixon and Ter­rance West (Tow­son Univer­sity, North­west­ern High) have been the team’s best run­ning backs so far. Dixon leads the team this pre­sea­son with 107 rush­ing yards on 22 car­ries, to go along with two catches for 21 yards. West has 25 car­ries for 101 yards and two touch­downs and three catches for 25 yards.

Justin Forsett and Buck Allen, who cur­rently head the depth chart, have done lit­tle in the pre­sea­son. Forsett has 11 yards on seven rushes and 14 yards on two re­cep­tions, and Allen has 35 yards on 18 car­ries and 36 yards and a touch­down on seven re­cep­tions.

It ap­pears the Ravens will stick to their stated phi­los­o­phy of go­ing with the hot hand, which West in­sists could be any­body.

“The back­ups here are good,” West said. “Our of­fense is stacked. In this locker room, we are mak­ing the de­ci­sions for coaches to make hard. The back­ups are good, the third-stringers are good — that’s what win­ning teams are about in this league.”

JERRY JACK­SON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Ben­jamin Wat­son, who was ex­pected to be the Ravens’ start­ing tight end af­ter sign­ing as a free agent, is looked at by train­ers af­ter tear­ing his Achilles ten­don on the team’s first play of Satur­day night’s pre­sea­son game against the Li­ons. He is out for the sea­son.

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