In a perfect world, the Ravens may have settled on their starting left guard by now. Yet, that’s not how training camp has played out and head coach John Harbaugh acknowledged following Wednesday’s workout that the Ravens may not decide on their starter at the position until after the preseason finale against the Washington Commandeers on Aug. 27.
“We still have two more games. We still have a good week and a half — a good week — of practice left after this game, then a little bit into the next week,” Harbaugh said. “So, I would like to think by the third preseason game, after the Commanders game, we’ll kind of know.”
While there are still roster spots to be won, there aren’t a whole lot of starting position competitions left to be decided before the Ravens open the season Sept. 11 against the New York Jets. If running back J.K. Dobbins isn’t a full go, the Ravens will have to choose a starting running back among Mike Davis, Justice Hill and Tyler Badie. However, the reality is that will be a running back-by-committee situation anyway.
At wide receiver, there is a curiosity about who slots into the second and third spots behind Rashod Bateman. Both Devin Duvernay and James Proche figure to get a similar number of snaps regardless, so the question of who is No. 2 and who is No. 3 doesn’t feel especially relevant.
Defensively, the Ravens will have to settle on a starting cornerback opposite Marlon Humphrey if Marcus Peters isn’t ready to play. The team, though, is still optimistic about Peters’ availability, so there may not be a decision to make at all.
Left guard, though, has been a legitimate competition with both Ben Powers and Tyre Phillips getting first-team reps throughout training camp. Ben Cleveland, a third-round pick in 2021, has seemingly never gotten himself into the mix for the job after he missed the first week of training camp because he couldn’t pass the conditioning test.
Earlier this summer, offensive coordinator Greg Roman labeled Powers the frontrunner. Harbaugh acknowledged Wednesday that Powers has been the “most consistent” left guard in camp, but he didn’t dismiss Phillips’ candidacy for the job or the fact that the final two preseason games will have a large role in deciding the competition.
“It’s really important,” Harbaugh said. “Hey, if they’re both doing great, and they’re not separating because they’re doing great, that’s great, too.”
Powers is the Ravens’ most experienced option, having started 19 games at guard over the past two seasons. The Ravens are pleased with the strength he’s added to his lower body. Phillips is the much more athletic option. The Ravens have wanted him to play with more consistency and he’s responded this summer by having a solid camp and staying healthy.
The competition, though, has been slow to develop. That’s partly because Cleveland, who was perceived as the favorite at one point of the offseason, wasn’t able to get on the field until a week into camp. That’s also because the Ravens continue to move both Powers and Phillips around in an attempt to improve their versatility. Powers has been taking reps at center since rookie first-round pick Tyler Linderbaum went down with a foot injury earlier this month. With Ronnie Stanley still sidelined, Phillips continues to work some at left tackle.
Things figure to heat up, starting Sunday in Arizona. Those involved understand a decision nears.
“Not just the last two games. I approach every game like that,” Phillips said Wednesday. “I approach every week at practice like I’m the starter — if I am or not — just because it’s a ‘next man up’ room that we have. So, every week, I’m approaching it as a starter.”
The Ravens are officially done with the training camp portion of the preseason. They’re leaving for Arizona on Thursday and will have two practices at Arizona State before Sunday’s prime-time preseason game against the Cardinals. They will be hosted at Arizona State by Herm Edwards’ Sun Devils’ staff, which includes former Ravens coaches Brian Billick, Marvin Lewis and Donnie Henderson.
Harbaugh confirmed Wednesday that Jackson and a good number of other veterans, including tight end Mark Andrews, won’t play Sunday night against the Cardinals.
When the team returns from Arizona on Monday, it’ll morph into regular-season mode. So this is the final observations segment from training camp:
• The Ravens had 10 players not take part in Wednesday’s final training camp practice. That group included running back Gus Edwards (knee); wide receivers Proche (hamstring) and Tylan Wallace (knee); tight end Charlie Kolar (hernia); offensive linemen Stanley (ankle), Linderbaum (foot) and Daniel Faalele (undisclosed); linebackers Tyus Bowser (Achilles) and David Ojabo (Achilles); and cornerback Peters (knee). It is believed that Peters was just getting a day off after he took part in two consecutive workouts following his activation from the physically unable to perform list.
• Harbaugh said that Faalele had some “swelling,” so the Ravens gave him off Wednesday. Faalele left Tuesday’s practice early. He also provided a positive update on Linderbaum, saying the first-round center will likely return to the individual portion of practice Friday while the team is in Arizona. Linderbaum has been sidelined since leaving practice early Aug. 4.
• Rookie fourth-round corner Jalyn Armour-Davis exited Wednesday’s practice about an hour in when he fell and hit his head. Armour-Davis looked a little woozy as an athletic trainer guided him inside the building. Harbaugh said that Armour-Davis would get some tests done.
• It’s been a while since the offense put together a complete practice. There have been some big plays and impressive periods in recent practices, but the offense has struggled with consistency for much of the second half of training camp. Wednesday may have been the offense’s most difficult day all summer. There were way too many footballs hitting the ground, whether it was from poorly thrown balls, miscommunications or drops. Jackson got off to a really strong start to training camp, but his play tailed off in the home stretch. The offense has the look of a group that is ready to compete against a different defense.
• The struggles started early. The first full-team period featured a Binjimen Victor drop, a screen pass to Hill that Patrick Queen snuffed out for a minimal gain and a Jackson throw that was well wide of Bateman.
• The clear practice standout was safety Marcus Williams. Baltimore’s prized free-agent acquisition, Williams had two interceptions, the first coming when Jackson, while facing a blitz, tried to float the ball to Andrews down the seam. Andrews was surrounded by Williams, safety Chuck Clark and cornerback Brandon Stephens and Williams picked the ball off and headed the other way. Williams’ second interception came against No. 3 quarterback Anthony Brown during a seven-on-seven period. Along with his first two picks of camp, Williams had two big hits, jarring the ball from Andrews in a full-team period and then leveling undrafted rookie wide receiver Slade Bolden in seven-on-sevens. In the past week, Williams has really come on and looked much more assertive.
• Offensively, one of the few bright spots was former USFL receiver Bailey Gaither, who caught two long touchdowns. The first one was a 75-yarder from Tyler Huntley in full-team work. Gaither caught the ball over safety Geno Stone, who tried to undercut the route and get the interception, and then sprinted into the end zone. The second was in seven-on-sevens as Gaither got behind safety Tony Jefferson and was the recipient of a nice deep throw from Brown.
• Humphrey’s physical coverage and pass breakup against Bateman highlighted an extended one-on-one segment between pass catchers and defensive backs. Rookies Isaiah Likely and Kyle Hamilton split their two matchups. Kyle Fuller was beaten by Makai Polk on his first rep, but had a good recovery to knock away a potential touchdown to Polk on the second. Kevon Seymour went 1 for 2, giving up a catch to Bolden and breaking up a deep throw to Bateman. Bateman made a play on his third rep, beating Damarion Williams for a long touchdown. Andrews got inside Clark for a win and then had a short catch against Clark in the second matchup. Undrafted rookie cornerback David Vereen forced incompletions against Jaylon Moore and Victor and then gave up a catch to Victor after falling down. The final Victor catch led to the defensive backs doing a round of pushups.
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• Bateman had another uneven day. He caught a well-thrown ball from Jackson in the middle of the end zone in the seven-on-seven period, but then dropped a potential touchdown in the corner of the end zone a few plays later. Bateman also was denied another touchdown when defensive back Ar’Darius Washington stepped in front of him and knocked the ball away.
• Offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris pulled center Patrick Mekari from a drill and gave him an earful after one play. It wasn’t clear what Mekari did or didn’t do to draw D’Alessandris’ ire.
• Phillips was trucked by rookie defensive tackle Travis Jones and Cleveland was the collateral damage. Phillips fell into Cleveland’s lower leg. The second-year guard limped off, but didn’t miss any practice time.
• Jackson took off on a designed run and ran straight into Odafe Oweh. Knowing that making contact with the quarterback is a no-no, Oweh quickly put his arms up in the air and apologized. It was more a matter of Oweh getting run into rather than him initiating the contact.
• One of the better executed offensive plays was Jackson hitting Duvernay outside the numbers on a nice timing route. The ball was on Duvernay just as he got out of his break and there wasn’t a whole lot Seymour could do to defend the play.
• Victor was the victim of two pretty big hits. Veteran cornerback Daryl Worley drove him down early in practice and Humphrey slung him to the ground later. Victor walked slowly off the field after the Humphrey hit, but returned to the workout.
• In the one-on-one pass-rush drill, tackles Morgan Moses and Ja’Wuan James did their job against Steven Means and Oweh, respectively. Powers got the better of Justin Madubuike, while Calais Campbell got inside Kevin Zeitler. The most spirited and physical matchup featured center Trystan Colon against Aaron Crawford. The two fought to a stalemate. Jimmy Murray held his ground versus Jones. Phillips and David Sharpe won their reps against Daelin Hayes and Isaiah Mack, respectively.
• During a break from practice, punter Jordan Stout made a 60-yard field goal attempt out of the hold from Justin Tucker. Later during practice, Stout was good from 54 yards with special teams assistant Sam Koch holding.
• In a two-minute drill, Jackson went 5 for 10 with four of his completions to Andrews and the other to Duvernay. The incompletions included a throw behind Likely, a drop by Likely, a miscommunication with Bateman in which the receiver cut off the route and Jackson threw it deep down the sideline, a throw to Polk who fell down and a drop by Victor.
• Harbaugh had a word with undrafted receiver Shemar Bridges after the rookie didn’t adjust to a Jackson back-shoulder pass and continued to run up the sideline. Bridges has been extremely quiet in practices after his strong performance in the preseason opener.
• James, the 6-foot-6 and 323-pound tackle, created some laughs by cleanly fielding a punt, looking quite athletic in doing so. The only problem was the purpose of the play was for the punt to hit the ground. James either didn’t know or got too excited for the opportunity to show off his hands and athleticism.
(Top photo of Tyre Phillips: Scott Taetsch / USA Today)