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The typical formula for the fourth and final preseason game is that the majority of the starters don’t play.
The game is usually left for the backups and rookies, basically those players looking to make one last impression in the battle for the final few active and practice squad roster spots.
But due to the lockout that has shortened players’ time together, and the Ravens’ many offensive changes this offseason (new wide receivers, fresh starting tight ends and a revamped offensive line) the decision of how much to play the starters isn’t so easy.
“It’s really to be determined,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “We’ve talked about it and we’re going to figure it out. But it is different, and that’s why it’s not as cut and dry as it usually is.”
Flacco Expects To Go
Quarterback Joe Flacco has not seen a snap in the fourth preseason game since his rookie year.
However, he told reporters he is anticipating seeing some action.
“Yeah, as of now, I think I will,” Flacco told the Carroll County Times. “I don’t know how much.”
Flacco has seen more game time than usual throughout this preseason. He played into the second half against Kansas City and went midway through the third quarter versus Washington.
Will O-Line Have Time To Gel?
The Ravens haven’t had their projected starting offensive line play together in a game yet.
Left tackle Bryant McKinnie didn’t play last week against the Redskins because he had just been signed and didn’t have enough time to prepare.
Center Matt Birk and right guard Marshal Yanda fully returned to practice this week after missing the first three preseason games. Michael Oher hasn’t had a game snap at right tackle since 2009.
Harbaugh was asked how beneficial it would be to get them some playing time Thursday before heading into the regular-season opener versus the Steelers on Sept. 11.
“It would help; it would be better than not playing,” Harbaugh said. “But, there are risks involved with that. So, like we said before, that’s the dilemma.”
Who’s Under Center?
Rookie Tyrod Taylor will likely get the majority of snaps because he has one last game to prove he can be the Ravens’ No. 2 quarterback.
“This is a big game,” Taylor said. “Any time you get a chance to prove yourself and impress coaches, you have to. Coaches give me the job to go out there and command the offense and show leadership and that’s what I take pride in doing.”
Behind Taylor is Hunter Cantwell, who has had limited preseason game and practice action as Baltimore has been invested in getting Joe Flacco more time to bond with his young targets and getting Taylor up to speed as quickly as possible.
Cantwell did complete a 38-yard bomb to rookie LaQuan Williams against the Chiefs, but has attempted just three passes in preseason games thus far.
“I understand what coaches are doing,” Cantwell said. “I’ve been doing everything in my power to get mental reps this past couple weeks and watching how [Flacco and Taylor] play and trying to visualize me doing some things they’re doing.”
Last preseason, Cantwell was battling with rookies Jimmy Clausen and Tony Pike for the backup job in Carolina. They won the No. 2 and No. 3 spots; Cantwell was cut and then signed by Baltimore, where he spent the season on the Ravens’ practice squad.
If Cantwell doesn’t make Baltimore’s roster or practice squad, this is a chance for him to get some quality tape for others to see.
“This isn’t my first rodeo,” Cantwell said. “I’m going to go out there and play up to my ability. And at the end of the day, you’ve got to let the chips fall where they may.”
Watch For The Young Guys
The overarching theme of the game will be watching the performances of the bubble players.
Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of potential roster spots. Some names to watch for are Williams, wide receiver Marcus Smith, running backs Anthony Allen and Jalen Parmele, tight ends Davon Drew and Kris Wilson and guard/centers Justin Boren and Bryan Mattison.
On defense, watch linebackers Jason Phillips and Michael McAdoo, defensive backs Mana Silva and Josh Victorian and linemen Brandon McKinney and Lamar Divens.
“[It's a] great opportunity for the young guys, no doubt about it,” Harbaugh said. “They’ll be playing, obviously, the majority of the game. This is their chance to get some tape and get some live NFL action to prove to us and the rest of the League what they can do.”
Cornerback Chris Carr (hamstring), guard/tackle Mark LeVoir and wide receiver Lee Evans all missed practice this week.
Evans hasn’t practiced since last Thursday’s game against the Washington Redskins. LeVoir was at guard in that game and hasn’t played since. Carr hasn’t seen time in the Ravens’ last two preseason games.