As little as tonight’s preseason finale matters to the Ravens’ veterans, it certainly means a lot to younger players looking to realize their dream of making an NFL roster.
Quarterback Joe Flacco won’t play at St. Louis and backup Tyrod Taylor might not after undergoing concussion protocols all week.
The fact that those two won’t likely be on the field already colors the performances of the rest of the offense differently. But that’s what film is for.
There are plenty of reasons to watch tonight’s game against the Rams - jobs can be won or lost and the makeup of the roster is yet to be determined.
“Well, we’ll just look at it and decide who the guys are that help us the most to be the best team we can be,” coach John Harbaugh told reporters. “That’s really what it is. All of the little variables that go in there are different for every situation. Then, you’ve got to make some - just to be fair - you do have to make some assumptions. We’re going to need this type of a player at that position, or we’re going to because we have this guy here, we need this guy over there. Those are the things that come into play.
“If you keep this person, it may mean this other person fits more. But if you keep this other person, it’s a different type of an equation.”
Here’s a look at what to watch:
Who will grab hold of the openings at wide receiver behind Torrey Smith, Brandon Stokley and Jacoby Jones?
Tommy Streeter, Rashaad Carter and Gerrard Sheppard were among the Ravens first cuts on Sunday, but those were perhaps the most obvious decisions among a large pool of candidates vying to be the Ravens’ depth receivers.
Baltimore still needs to choose (likely) three from Marlon Brown, Tandon Doss, Aaron Mellette, Deonte Thompson and LaQuan Williams.
It says a lot that the undrafted Brown and seventh-round selection Mellette saw time with the first team last week. They’re both big and have had eye-opening preseasons. They have arguably been Ravens’ two best wideouts not named Torrey Smith.
Doss might need a big performance tonight to make the squad and Thompson has been hurt by the fact that he hasn’t been on the field the last two games.
Williams might have an inside track on making the team because he’s a strong special teams player, and has been productive in that area this preseason.
So the decisions won’t be easy, and the receivers’ play against the Rams could go a long way toward helping the team make them.
Will Gino Gradkoski or A.Q. Shipley emerge as the starting center?
In probably the most heated position battle behind receiver, Gradkowski and Shipley have one more shot to prove themselves in a game situation.
Gradkowski has appeared to gain some separation in the competition, more because of Shipley’s mistakes in the second preseason game. But this was a close race throughout camp, so tonight will be important in helping the staff choose one to go with the first team.
Which young guys will earn the last roster spots?
Even with three preseason games in the rear view, jobs can be won or lost tonight.
Beyond wide receiver and center, there aren’t too many prominent roles on the line. But young guys will be out for their professional lives, looking to grab backup and special teams positions on the 53-man roster, as well as practice squad invites.
Harbaugh hopes those bubble players aren’t too anxious, so the team’s brass gets a clear and accurate view of what they have to offer.
“That’s the right approach. I don’t know if we preached it, but it’s a message that they’re taking to heart,” Harbaugh told reporters. “Daryl Smith even mentioned it to them when he did the ‘wise words’ (post-practice huddle breakdown) the other day. You go out there and do what you’ve always done. Be yourself, be your best self, play hard, have fun, and do what you can do.”
Will a third quarterback play his way on to the roster?
With Flacco’s durability and Taylor’s experience in the Ravens’ system, the team might not have a need for a third quarterback.
The NFL seems to be straying more toward a two-quarterback system to open up an extra spot for somebody else. But veteran Caleb Hanie has a chance to convince the Ravens he should stay with what will be his first extensive playing time of the preseason.
Hanie and rookie Dayne Crist will likely get all the snaps under center against the Rams. Crist was likely re-signed just to give the team someone else to play in the exhibition finale. But Hanie has a legitimate shot.
He has played in 10 career NFL games, including four starts for the Chicago Bears in 2011. If Hanie plays well and the Ravens choose to go with three passers, that will cost one of the young wideouts or another bubble player a job.