Ravens’ Preseason Backfield Battles Heat Up

Ravens Tyler Huntley

Getty Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley celebrates after a fourth quarter touchdown against the New Orleans Saints.

After the Baltimore Ravens defeated the New Orleans Saints on Saturday night, head coach John Harbaugh will be updating his offensive depth chart based on what he saw in the team’s 17-14 victory.

The offense is in an odd state of flux; though the team knows its expected starters at nearly every position, six of them are injured, which has given backup players a lot of reps in practice.

The backups played for most of Saturday’s game as well, giving the coaching staff a glimpse at the second-team backfield.

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Who Will Back Up Lamar Jackson?

Star quarterback Lamar Jackson missed the first two weeks of training camp after testing positive for COVID-19, giving backups Tyler Huntley and Trace McSorley plenty of time to compete to be the second quarterback on the depth chart.

McSorley was listed on the first depth chart of the season as QB2, but that’s largely due to his longer tenure with the team. He served as the third-string quarterback behind Robert Griffin III after he was drafted in 2019, while Huntley joined the Ravens as an undrafted free agent late in the 2020 season.

Huntley has been gaining ground on McSorley for all of training camp, and Saturday’s game could give him pole position on the backup quarterback job. He was 12 of 16 through the air for 79 yards, and added 43 yards and a touchdown on seven rushes.

Huntley also brought out his best Lamar Jackson impression with this scramble after his pass protection crumbled.

McSorley completed 11 of his 18 passes for 86 yards, but struggled with his accuracy downfield, throwing an interception late in the second half. He showed poise behind a shaky offensive line, but was unable to turn broken plays into positive yardage.

The Ravens are looking for a backup to the NFL’s most unique quarterback, and Huntley’s speed and agility make him a better fit behind Jackson. While an injury to the 2019 MVP would be disastrous for the Ravens, they still want the best insurance policy possible, especially if Jackson only misses a game or two due to a minor injury or another positive COVID test.

Harbaugh announced today that McSorley would miss the rest of the preseason with a back injury, indicating that the backup quarterback job is all but Huntley’s.

“He came in and played excellent. He made plays with his arm, feet and head. He took a big step in that direction to be the backup QB,” said Harbaugh, per Sarah Ellison.

Race for the Third Running Back Spot

The Ravens have the league’s most dangerous three-headed monster leading their rushing attack, with Jackson and running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards all finishing the 2020 season in the top 10 of yards per carry in the NFL.

Justice Hill has served as the Ravens’ third-string running back since he was drafted in the fourth round in 2019, but has failed to carve out a role for himself in the offense.

He struggled against the Saints on Saturday, only managing eight yards on five carries, while undrafted free agents Ty’Son Williams and Nate McCrary both recorded more yards on the ground. Williams also emerged as a factor in the passing game, catching all five of his targets for 23 yards.

Coming into the preseason, the RB3 position was Hill’s to lose, but if he continues to offer no upside on offense, he could be usurped by Williams or McCrary. Even though Jackson, Edwards and Dobbins will dominate carries, their ground-heavy offense means a reliable third running back is important to have on the roster.

Hill’s saving grace could be his development on special teams, especially as a gunner on punt coverage. He played 192 special teams snaps last year, good for sixth on the Ravens. 

But the Ravens have always been able to develop special teams contributors, given Harbaugh’s background as a special teams coach. Chris Westry and Odafe Oweh were both solid in punt coverage on Saturday, so the Ravens have options if they choose to move on from Hill.

With two preseason games remaining, Williams, McCrary and Hill will be looking to make the most of their opportunities to secure a roster spot.