Week 1 of the Ravens 2022 preseason went about as according to plan as these otherwise sloppy exhibition outings can go. The highly touted depth pieces on the squad (of which there are many) got plenty of good run, Baltimore extended their impressive and humorous preseason win streak, and most importantly, nobody got (seriously) hurt.
Yes, Tylan Wallace suffered a minor knee sprain that caused him to exit the game and created more uncertainty at a potential problem position for the Ravens. This isn’t ideal, but is far from a worst-case scenario for the second-year wideout who will still have time to repair his dwindling stock.
In semi-related good news from last Thursday night, a guy who didn’t have much time to even create a stock portfolio for himself ostensibly did just that in Wallace’s absence. Last week, I wrote that one of the unheralded young wideouts needed a big night separate themselves from the rest of the pack and boy did we see that from Fort Valley State’s Shemar Bridges.
Before last week’s game, the 6-foot-4, 208-pound target was hardly on the tip of anyone’s tongue when it came to which of the young receivers had a chance to make the final 53-man roster. Now he’s in pole position, having pulled ahead of the more experienced Jaylon Moore and Binjimen Victor, the higher pedigree Slade Bolden, and the rest of the hopefuls in this room. It’s not just for his raw production either, as he appears to possess the boundary-bopper type skillset Baltimore could use for their passing game:
Not to be overshadowed were additional strong performances by many others, some of whom who are secure in their positions while some are vying for a coveted spot on the 53-man. Practice field menace Isaiah Likely is looking every bit the real deal as a receiving threat while safety Geno Stone is playing his way onto a team that already boasts one of the best safety rooms in the league. Many young players both with and without pedigree, such as defensive tackle Travis Jones, offensive tackle Daniel Faalele, and defensive tackle Aaron Crawford all gave the coaching staff plenty of positives to think on as we move forward.
We’re likely to see more from them on Sunday night, as the Ravens travel to the Valley of the Sun to take on the Arizona Cardinals for Week 2 of the preseason. Funny enough, though, none of them may prove to be the biggest story as we enter that game. Instead, it’s probable that much attention will be paid to Wednesday’s comments made by a recent Raven, now turned Cardinal, who hasn’t been shy about his reasons for wanting out of Baltimore.
Marquise “Hollywood” Brown has made waves since his draft night exit from Baltimore. He’s made some pointed, but largely fair comments that expressed his love for the organization, but some dissatisfaction with the offensive system that he felt wasn’t maximizing his talents. Even if you don’t see that latter point as entirely true (Brown topped 1,000 yards on 146 targets in 2021), it’s easy to simply agree to disagree and let Hollywood go on to a new opportunity in Arizona after he acquitted himself very professionally through the trade process.
While it would be nice if the story could die on the vine from there, allowing both parties to move on, this is the NFL and controversy plays. So, when a few reporters asked Brown about this in scheduled media availability, it was likely to try and drum up some controversy ahead of a preseason matchup that probably won’t even feature him (he’s dealt with a hamstring injury and a speeding arrest in the last several weeks).
Hollywood once again pontificated on what went wrong for him in Charm City.
Marquise Brown on leaving the Ravens— Kevin Oestreicher (@koestreicher34) August 17, 2022
"I want to feel like I am a part of something to win. At the Ravens, I just felt like sometimes they really didn't need me. Regardless if I was there or not, they were going to win games...I love the game too much. I want to be involved."
Those comments read pretty critically, and are (at best) pretty curious. If all he wants to do is win, why would he have a problem being a part of a Baltimore culture that he won 34 games with, including a playoff victory? In writing, it comes across as “I want to win, but only on my terms, and if I feature heavily,” which is somewhat petulant.
But, as always with these situations, context matters. Watch the below video of what he said, and then decide for yourself if you feel the same way about what he said:
I’ll admit that when I first read what he said I was perplexed and annoyed that this continues to be a story. But the fact is, this basically falls in line with what he’s said all along. He has love and respect for the Ravens but would like to maximize his production opportunities in an offense that doesn’t mainly feature the run, or have one of the league’s best tight ends hoovering up most of the target share.
While it’s unfortunate that this will likely take up some of the narrative oxygen ahead of a game that it won’t have any implications on, these comments have turned into a decently sized story nonetheless. All I ask is that everyone listen Brown’s words in full context, be the judge of them yourself, and then we can move on to actually talk some about the football that’s going to be played.
Sound good? Perfect — let’s talk some more preseason.
Ramping Things Up
One of the themes of 2022 training camp and preseason for the Ravens has been taking a very deliberate pace with both their practices and their preparation for them. Much of this has stemmed from what was a catastrophic 2021 camp in which they lost multiple key players for the year in both practices and preseason contests.
As one of the most swashbuckling coaches in all of football, it would be hard to say that John Harbaugh is walking on eggshells in any context. However, he’s certainly been very careful to avoid pushing his key players too far this summer. Very few of the team’s starters saw action in the first preseason game against the Titans. One who did was outside linebacker Odafe Oweh. He saw one play of action before getting yanked from the game for the night.
While this sounds set to largely continue against the Cardinals, Harbaugh did offer up that some regular season starters will be seeing some action in the game.
John Harbaugh said Lamar Jackson and a number of other key starters will again sit out Sunday’s game in Arizona. Some others who sat out the opener will play, however. #Ravens— Luke Jones (@BaltimoreLuke) August 17, 2022
The story here of course, is how many starters, who will they be, and how deep into the game will Harbaugh push them from a reps standpoint? While the preseason is devoid of competitive meaning for starting players, it does carry some inherent value as far as exposing yourself to what equates to a live-fire situation for the NFL.
So, who will it be? Marcus Williams getting a brief feel for the action on the back end of the defense? Will Morgan Moses dust off the cleats and lead the offensive line for a few plays as the elder statesman? We won’t know until Sunday, but it’s certainly something to track early in the game.
While he’s seemingly learned his lesson from playing his starters in last year’s preseason, there’s something about Harbaugh that loves a good “ramp-up session,” and this time of year has always been a way for him to express that. As Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (a character who I’d bet good money that Harbaugh idolizes) would say, “Lights on, let’s turn and burn.”
The Marathon Continues
While news of starters potentially suiting up is always something to track, the only real continuous through line of most preseasons game-to-game is the performance of the bubble players. If the starters are just turning their proverbial jet engines on, then the players we saw last week are already on a mad dash through a river valley trying to hit a record time for their upcoming bombing run.
Out in the lead are guys like Bridges, Stone and the others we’ve already mentioned. But who else on the back end of this roster can stand to gain from a big performance in Phoenix?
Two names that jump to mind are guys who had some decent involvement in the first game and appeared to have a chance to carve their way into the special teams rotation. On defense it’s rookie cornerback Damarion “Pepe” Williams, who’s had a high-profile training camp and was active in the punt return game last Thursday night. If Pepe can make some more hay as a returner and also make a play or two on defense it’ll be a boon to a cornerback room that can never have enough depth.
The second is rookie running back Tyler Badie, who feels like the most long-term fixture of the running back group currently seeing action (i.e. his current running mates Mike Davis and Justice Hill). Badie saw some run as the kick returner against Tennessee with limited action in the running game. Running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards will be returning to this lineup for the regular season at some point, but there’s a chance the Ravens will need to lean on their sixth-round pick in a run-centric offense at some point. Hopefully, Badie finds favor with this coaching staff in the way running back Ty’Son Williams wasn’t able to with a similar opportunity last year.
And there are more names out to watch outside of those two on Sunday. Undrafted free agent linebacker Josh Ross is a former Michigan team captain who held up well at inside linebacker vs. Tennessee. Crawford has impressed along the defensive line after joining the Ravens as a UDFA in 2021 and not playing football last year.
There are even more names to expound upon but all of this is to say the Ravens are an extremely deep squad right now. If nothing else, that makes preseason a more fun watch than it typically is for most teams and will make the roster cutdown process a nail biter. This is a compliment both to the Ravens and to the unheralded names they’ve brought in who are proving that they may just belong on a 53-man roster somewhere.
While this may not be of utmost importance to the bigger games they’ll play this season, it certainly means a lot to the guys on the field on Sunday night. That the Ravens and Harbaugh have imparted this to so many guys over the years is likely why they’ve turned into a war machine come August every year.