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4 Things We Learned From Ravens Preseason Week 3

More questions were definitively answered, yet some still linger following the team’s second exhibition defeat in less than a week.

NFL: Preseason-Baltimore Ravens at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

There are several noteworthy takeaways from the Baltimore Ravens’ 26-20 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their preseason finale on Saturday night. The team’s depth players on both sides of the ball came up short of starting another winning streak.

With starting spots and several key roles up for grabs, the team saw many players try to make the most of their last opportunity to show who the winners should be, who can be relied upon, and who can’t be counted on to fill their needs.

Four of the main things that can be learned from Ravens second-straight exhibition defeat:

John Simpson won the starting LG battle

If the fact that the fourth-year pro didn’t take a single snap in the Ravens’ third preseason game after starting the first two didn’t make it clear enough, Head Coach John Harbaugh officially announced what many pundits had been speculating for the past few weeks.

“John is going to be the starter. He’s earned that,” Harbaugh said. “I think that was pretty clear...John deserves it, has had a great camp, (is a) vet, physical and (we) just loved the way he played.”

Harbaugh went on to say that sixth-round rookie Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu, who played the entire game and had some struggles was also in contention for the starting spot, “will be just fine” and that he “will contribute” to the team. For now, his role as a rookie will be to serve as backup to both Simpson and veteran Kevin Zeitler at guard, and probably as the third-string right tackle too behind Faalele since he played both positions in college.

The fact that the former University of Oregon product went from being viewed almost exclusively as a developmental project to being in contention for a starting spot as a rookie over a higher-drafted and more experienced player like third-year pro Ben Cleveland shows the kind of tremendous promise he possesses.

With both Zeitler and Simpson under contract only through the 2023 season, the Ravens could already have their eventual successors on the roster learning behind them in Aumavae-Laulu and fellow rookie Andrew Vorhees, who was selected in the seventh round and will essentially medically redshirt this year as he recovers from a torn ACL he suffered at the scouting combine.

Josh Johnson will be on somebody’s roster

The 16th-year veteran journeyman quarterback had a sensational showing for the second week in a row with extended snaps due to fourth-year pro Tyler Huntley being out with a hamstring tweak. He led the Ravens on a masterful opening drive in which he absolutely carved up the Buccaneers’ first-team defense, completing all four of his pass attempts for 80 passing yards, that was capped off by a 24-yard touchdown strike.

Tampa Bay turned up the heat on defense after that drive and the Ravens backup offensive line struggled to consistently handle the additional pressure before Johnson got pulled from the game. He finished 6-of-9 for 95 passing yards, a touchdown, and a passer rating of 138.7 and was sacked once.

The poise and command of the offense that he has shown throughout the preseason might have been enough for the Ravens to consider carrying three quarterbacks on the active roster or perhaps even pick him over Huntley. If they opt to just release him, the odds of the 37-year-old remaining in Baltimore on the practice squad are likely slim because he proved that he is more than capable of being a primary backup in the league.

Trio of undrafted rookies made strong cases for practice squad bids

The final preseason game is often when players on the roster bubble do everything within their power to make a lasting impression not just for their team but the other 31 clubs in the league as well. Of the players that left it all out on the line in a valiant effort against the Buccaneers were three undrafted rookies who will certainly be in strong consideration to be signed to the practice squad if they don’t get claimed off waivers or make the final cuts.

After having a relatively quiet preseason through the first two weeks of exhibition contests, with just one catch on three targets for 11 receiving yards, former University of Maryland standout wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. had a fantastic outing. He only recorded a pair of catches but they were impressive snags that resulted in long gains, crucial conversions, and a game-high 86 receiving yards. His first came on a contested catch over two defenders for 38 yards down the right sideline and the second was a 48-yarder in which he got behind the entire secondary and actually had to slow down a bit to haul it in.

With fellow undrafted rookie running back Keaton Mitchell not playing in this game, the former Monmouth University standout Owen Wright had just as impressive of a final audition as Demus Jr. did. After recording just 22 combined yards from scrimmage on 12 total touches the past two weeks, he exploded for a game-high 89 rushing yards on 12 carries that included his first NFL touchdown and added 11 receiving yards to his scrimmage total to bring it to 100 total yards.

On the defensive side, former Colorado State-Pueblo standout Trey Botts was the most impressive defender of the entire night for the Ravens. He recorded the team’s only sack of the game and finished with three total tackles including two solos, one for a loss and a quarterback hit.

Defensive depth remains a bit of a concern

The fact that Botts was the brightest standout from a game where several of the Ravens’ primary backups played a lot is a little unsettling given they historically pride themselves on being deep at all three levels on that side of the ball. Young and experienced players who will play meaningful rotational or even starting snaps for the team this year had inconsistent or just poor showings.

In the first preseason game of his career after missing all of it his rookie year due to injury, second-year cornerback Jalyn Armour-Davis had a solid outing overall but allowed some crucial catches for key conversions and finished with three total tackles but no pass breakups despite being in position to make plays on the ball on more than one occasion.

Fortunately, the Ravens have fifth-year veteran Rock Ya-Sin who recently returned to practice, recently signed ninth-year veteran Ronald Darby, and surprise preseason and training camp standout Kevon Seymour to hold down the fort on the outside until three-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey returns from recovering from foot surgery.

Veteran safety Daryl Worley and fourth-year inside linebacker Malik Harrison, who will be counted on as core special teams players and defensive depth pieces, both whiffed on some open-field tackling opportunities. Fifth-year veteran inside linebacker and special teams ace Del’Shawn Phillips led the team in total tackles with eight but struggled in coverage at times.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the night and preseason overall based on previous expectations was the pure absence of consistent pressure from second-year outside linebacker David Ojabo. The 2022 second-rounder who is expected to play a major role this year played into the third quarter against the Buccaneers’ third and fourth-string linemen and still wasn’t able to make much of an impact off the edge.

The burden of being a full-time game wrecker won’t be squarely on his shoulders this year since the Ravens brought in veteran reinforcements in the form of three-time Pro Bowler Jadeveon Clowney. The former No. 1 overall pick’s prowess as an elite run defender will allow Ojabo to focus on what he has proven he can do at a high level, get after the quarterback on passing downs.