The Baltimore Ravens will take on the Carolina Panthers this Sunday in both teams’ second preseason game of the 2021 NFL season.
The Ravens defeated the New Orleans Saints last Saturday by a score of 17-14, while the Panthers narrowly lost to the Indianapolis Colts, 21-18. The two teams held joint practices in South Carolina this week, managing to keep fights to a minimum, with the only melee taking place on Tuesday.
The Ravens also escaped the week without adding any significant new injuries, despite multiple scares for a team that is without several key contributors heading into Saturday’s game. As the regular season approaches, Baltimore is running out of time to sort out their roster and their starting lineup.
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Of particular importance to the Ravens is their offensive line, which struggled to adapt to injuries last season and has picked up even more injuries so far in the preseason.
Injuries Hamper O-Line in Training Camp
The Ravens’ offensive line has been a subject of much scrutiny since bad snaps and poor pass protection resulted in an injury to star quarterback Lamar Jackson in a January game against the Buffalo Bills that ended Baltimore’s season.
General manager Eric DeCosta took steps to strengthen his offensive line this season, signing guard Kevin Zeitler and tackle Alejandro Villanueva and drafting guard Ben Cleveland. DeCosta also dealt tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to the Kansas City Chiefs after the 2020 Pro Bowler requested a trade.
The Ravens hope that the infusion of talent will bring stability to the offensive line, but injuries in the preseason have had other plans. Zeitler, Cleveland, and expected starting center Bradley Bozeman have all suffered injuries, sidelining them alongside All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who is working his way back to the playing field after an ankle injury ended his 2020 season.
All four players participated in practice this week, though it’s unclear which of them, if any, will play Saturday. Stanley is a near-certainty to rest, and Zeitler, between his injury and veteran status, may sit out as well, per The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec.
Even though four of the five starting spots are filled (Stanley at LT, Bozeman at C, Zeitler at RG and Villanueva at RT), an offensive line is often only as good as its weakest link, so the Ravens will be watching a trio of Bens – guards Powers, Bredeson and Cleveland – as well as Tyre Phillips to see who will start at left guard in the regular season.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman told ESPN’s Jonas Shaffer that the position battle is “wide open, adding “Nobody’s really grabbed it yet. There’s merit for everybody.”
Make (Plenty of) Room for Ben Cleveland
Phillips and Powers started the most games on the line last season (eight and seven, respectively), giving them the inside track on the starting job at LG, but it’s impossible (literally) to overlook Cleveland, the hulking former Georgia Bulldog taken by Baltimore in the third round in this year’s draft.
Bleacher Report’s Brent Sobleski named Cleveland as the Ravens’ X-factor for the 2021 season, and it’s easy to see why.
The six-foot-six, 357 pound guard fits the Ravens’ ground-heavy offense perfectly, but he’ll have to improve his pass protection to hold down a starting spot on the offensive line.
Fans have been itching to see Cleveland, nicknamed ‘Big Country,’ in action after he received positive reviews in OTAs and training camp. Cleveland suffered a concussion last week, forcing him to sit out of the team’s first preseason game. If he plays on Saturday, he’ll have a prime opportunity to lay claim to the starting left guard position with a solid performance against the Panthers.
If he sits, however, don’t be surprised to see Phillips or Powers start Week 1 at left guard, as the Ravens will need a prepared, cohesive offensive line to power the run game and protect Jackson.