Trimming roster to 53 makes for tough cuts
Team must remove 22 from active roster today; returner Hester works out
The Ravens roster remained at 75 through Friday, leaving the organization’s top decision-makers with a flurry of moves to make before this afternoon’s deadline to get down to 53 players.
A day after finishing their sixth undefeated preseason in franchise history, the Ravens worked out veteran return specialist Devin Hester, the latest indication the team is still exploring options for a primary return man. Hester, the NFL’s all-time leader in return t ouchdowns, was not i mmediately signed, although he remains an option as the Ravens try to settle on a roster for their regular-season opener against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 11 at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Ravens will have to move 22 players off their active roster by 4 p.m. Tight ends Darren Waller and Nick Boyle will go to the reserve/suspended list to start the regular season, taking care of two of the spots. Many of the other decisions will be challenging for coach John Harbaugh, whose team’s depth was evident during the undefeated preseason. Season opener Sept. 11, 1 p.m. TV: Ch. 13 Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM
“I told the guys that though we can’t keep every player, we sure wish we could,” Harbaugh said after the team’s 23-14 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.
“I wish we had a bigger roster. I wish that when you draft guys and you develop guys that you are allowed to keep guys and continue to develop them and have them later in the year when the injury bug hits.”
Harbaugh steers clear of comparisons, but he and his staff appear to have more difficult decisions to make this year. That’s part of having an 11-man draft class and getting so many accomplished veterans back from season-ending injuries last year.
Complicating matters for Harbaugh is the number of players who have been sidelined from recent practices and games because of injuries. The hope is that tight ends Dennis Pitta and Maxx Williams, left guard John Urschel, nose tackle Brandon Williams and safety Kendrick Lewis will return to practice next week and be ready to face the Bills.
However, other players, including running back Kenneth Dixon, outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, defensive tackle Carl Davis and safety Matt Elam, do not appear to be as close to a return. That leaves Harbaugh having to make sure the team is covered at every position in the short term, while also trying to adhere to the organization’s philosophy of taking the best 53 players.
“I’m excited for all their futures,” said Harbaugh, who acknowledged that he wasn’t looking forward to having to cut many players whom he sees as being NFL-caliber.
“I thought that, if anything, guys played themselves into jobs. Nobody played themselves out of jobs. Everybody played solid football, played hard.”
If the Ravens sign Hester, it obviously would not bode well for the roster chances of wide receivers Michael Campanaro (River Hill) and Keenan Reynolds (Navy). Both are among the 10 players the Ravens have used to return kicks or punts in the preseason.
Reynolds’ roster fate was pretty much sealed earlier in the summer with his struggles to hold on to punts and kicks in practice and his seeming inability to get much separation as a receiver. The former Navy star quarterback had just one catch for 2 yards in the four preseason games, and is no better than eighth on the team’s wide receiver depth chart behind Steve Smith Sr., Mike Wallace, Kamar Aiken, Breshad Perriman, Campanaro, Jeremy Butler and Chris Moore. Chris Matthews is in that mix as well.
“I always say everything is going to work out the way it’s supposed to,” Reynolds said Wide receiver-returner Michael Campanaro (River Hill) fumbles a kickoff in Thursday night’s win over the Saints. The Ravens worked out Devin Hester, the NFL’s all-time leader in return touchdowns, on Friday, the latest indication the team is still exploring options for a primary return man. after Thursday’s game. “Whether that be me making the team or not, whatever it is, there’s a higher plan in place.”
There are decisions to make at pretty much every position. Even at quarterback. Ryan Mallett has been the expected backup for Joe Flacco all along, and that remains the case, but journeyman Josh Johnson at least gave the organization something to think about by accounting for four touchdowns in the preseason.
At running back, Justin Forsett and Terrance West (Towson University, Northwestern High) are on track to go into the season as the team’s top two ball carriers, but there is suddenly some intrigue involving Buck Allen’s status after the secondyear back had an uneven preseason. Allen’s spot could be tenuous with Dixon not expected to miss much time.
The Ravens’ top six offensive linemen are set with Ronnie Stanley, Jeremy Zuttah, Marshal Yanda, Rick Wagner, Urschel and rookie Alex Lewis. However, the Ravens must decide among holdovers Ryan Jensen, De’Ondre Wesley and James Hurst, and veteran Vlad Ducasse for two or three reserve spots.
Along the defensive line, the Ravens might have to choose among rookie fourthround pick Willie Henry, veteran Kapron Lewis-Moore and undrafted free agent Michael Pierce for one spot. The rest of the defensive line rotation figures to include starters Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan and Lawrence Guy, and reserves Urban and Davis, assuming the latter returns soon, after he hurt his ankle against the Saints.
Pierce, a rookie out of Samford, made his case by capping a strong preseason with a strip sack and a fumble recovery for a touchdown against New Orleans.
“I’m happy with what I did throughout the preseason, blessed to get the reps I did in camp,” Pierce said after Thursday game. “Whatever it is, we’re going to roll with it.”
At cornerback, the Ravens have some choices to make behind starters Jimmy Smith and Shareece Wright, and rookie fourth-round pick Tavon Young. Despite a shaky preseason, Jerraud Powers seems likely to make the team. That leaves Will Davis, rookie Maurice Canady and Sheldon Price battling for one or two spots.
“There are a lot of good players that are going to be out the next two days,” Harbaugh said.
There’s also the chance that the Ravens, who have the sixth overall waiver claim by virtue of their 5-11 finish last year, bring in more players that were either let go by other teams or are free agents. Hester was released by the Atlanta Falcons in late July after a season in which he was limited to five games because of a toe injury.
Hester had surgery this offseason and the Ravens, who have struggled throughout the preseason to find a primary return man, wanted to see how far along he was in his recovery. Hester wrote on his Instagram account Aug. 24 that he’d be ready in about two weeks.
The former Chicago Bear holds the NFL record for return touchdowns with 20 and punt-return scores with 14.