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Dress rehearsal brings clarity to the Baltimore Ravens depth chart

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Following the Baltimore Ravens victory against Detroit in their third preseason game, the 2016 regular season roster is coming into focus.

Quarterback

The grass looked greener with Joe Flacco on the field. He looked sharp and showed off his mobility when rolling out of the pocket. Flacco’s strong showing cements the decision to carry only two quarterbacks. Ryan Mallett put great touch on Butler’s touchdown and widened the gap between he and Josh Johnson. Johnson would force the opposition to prepare for his scrambling ability. The Ravens have two good backup options, they may end up trading one of them to Dallas following Romo’s injury.

Running Back

Justin Forsett has not yet earned the starting tailback designation. He has done well catching passes out of the backfield but has not regained his pass blocking form from 2014. Kenneth Dixon looked to be on the verge of claiming the starting job, showing great burst, power and balance, before a knee injury put his availability in doubt. Terrance West has a lock on the power back role while Buck Allen continues to shine as a receiver. Kyle Juszczyk is a versatile fullback who saw snaps as the lone back while Flacco was in shotgun, presumably for his blocking ability. The Ravens will carry all five of these running backs and fullbacks on their roster, as long as Dixon’s injury will not keep him out past September.

Tight End

Ben Watson’s Achilles injury proves the risk in signing a 35-year old free agent to a medium-sized contract. Crockett Gillmore will serve as the starting tight end and is the best blocker of bunch. Dennis Pitta should be utilized on third and medium once his finger heals. Maxx Williams needs to step his game up in order for the Ravens offense to realize their potential. Even with Watson done for the year, tight end is still in good shape with three quality players.

Wide Receiver

Mike Wallace and Kamar Aiken have looked great in the preseason and comprise a fine starting tandem. Steve Smith’s return will further boost the unit. Jeremy Butler was the third receiver to see the field in the dress rehearsal and has made enough plays to be considered a roster lock at this point. Chris Moore also made a tough catch and should see some playing time this season. Chris Matthews is likely on the wrong side of the bubble after an ugly drop, but could sneak onto the team if Breshard Perriman suffers another setback. Michael Campanaro is the best punt returner on the team and should claim the final receiver spot.

Offensive Line

Ronnie Stanley, Jeremy Zuttah, Marhsal Yanda and Ricky Wagner are entrenched as starters, and have done well to establish the running game. Alex Lewis and John Urschel are still competing to serve as left guard, the loser will backup multiple positions. Ryan Jensen was on the right side of the pancake blocks this week and his positional versatility will earn him a roster spot. Vladimir Ducasse looks to be the eighth and final offensive lineman with none of the developmental offensive tackles proving consistent enough to earn placement on the active roster.

Defensive Line

Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan and Carl Davis are the top three on the interior. Willie Henry should get the nod above Kapron Lewis-Moore since he has much more upside. Lawrence Guy and Brent Urban will rotate at defensive end, but need to get better at anchoring against the run. Six defensive lineman will suffice since Pees is using a lot of four-man fronts with outside linebackers down in a three-point stance.

Outside Linebacker

The return of Terrell Suggs gave the defense a big boost, they were swarming to the ball again. Elvis Dumervil will platoon with Albert McClellan at the strong side spot, expect close to a 50-50 split in snaps based on pass vs. run situations. Matt Judon has impressed as a rookie and is primed to give Suggs a blow when necessary. Victor Ochi and Chris Carter are still in contention for one of the final roster slots.

Inside Linebacker

C.J. Mosley and Zachary Orr are the starters. Moving Anthony Levine to linebacker looks like a stoke of genius, he has been excellent in coverage and should replace Orr in nickel and dime formations. Kamalei Correa will provide depth across the second level. Arthur Brown’s time has run out in Baltimore, he has not done enough to keep his place on the roster.

Cornerback

This is the position with the most uncertainty. Jimmy Smith is the top corner, but projected starter Shareece Wright has struggled enough to put his starting job in jeopardy. Will Davis and Sheldon Price are pushing Wright and both show a better ability to make plays on the ball in the air. Tavon Young is a lock to make the team based off his special teams prowess and coverage ability. Young may end up starting in the slot unless Jerraud Powers or Kyle Arrington get healthy and show better coverage. Maurice Canady brings enough upside to be in contention for a place on the regular season depth chart.

Safety

Eric Weddle and Lardarius Webb will serve as the veteran starters. Terrance Brooks is third on the depth chart with Kendrick Lewis and Matt Elam on the shelf, but he needs to wrap up better when tackling. Elam’s injury may save Lewis from being released.

Bottom Line

Entering the fourth preseason game, a few battles still rage on. 51 of the 53 roster spots appear to be all sewn up with two slots available, depending on Dixon and Elam’s availability. A direct competition at cornerback should come down to Powers vs. Arrington vs. Canady. The final roster spot may be awarded to an outside linebacker, either Carter or Ochi.

May the best men win.