The major challenge for the Ravens front office and coaching staff over the next month will be deciding which players ultimately make the final 53-man roster. The Ravens must trim their roster to 75 players by Aug. 27, and then the final 53-man roster must be set by Aug. 31, two days after the last preseason game in St. Louis.
Of course, many of those 53 spots are already spoken for. Coach John Harbaugh likes to say there is competition for every spot, but this just in, Joe Flacco will make this team. So will Ray Rice. And Terrell Suggs. And Marshal Yanda. In fact, 40 or so roster spots are probably already set, which leaves about 50 players fighting for roughly a dozen spots.
Over the next week, we are taking a closer look at some of those players on the roster bubble and assessing their chances of making the team. (Previously: QB). Today, it’s the running backs.
ON THE BUBBLE: RB Damien Berry
Berry, an undrafted free agent signee out of Miami in 2011, has been on the outside looking in for the Ravens each of the past two seasons. He spent the 2011 season on the practice squad, and then just before the 2012 season he was placed on season-ending injured reserve (neck/shoulder).
Berry, 24, finds himself in a tough spot again this preseason. The Ravens are sure to keep Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce and Vonta Leach. Anthony Allen also likely has a spot as a No. 3 back and special teamer – he was frequently praised by Jacoby Jones last season as a key to Jones’ kick return touchdowns. How many running backs will the Ravens keep? If they decide to keep five, that could leave Berry clawing for the final spot with rookie Kyle Juszczyk and second-year back Bobby Rainey.
Two things work in Berry’s favor. First, Bernard Pierce is hobbled by a knee injury sustained in the preseason opener at Tampa Bay. The injury isn’t considered serious, but Pierce’s workload will likely be lessened as a result. And second, defensive backs Asa Jackson (eight games) and Christian Thompson (four games) are both facing suspensions to begin the season. That could open up a job on special teams.
Particularly with Pierce hobbled, Berry is likely to get an extended audition this preseason. He was the leading rusher in the preseason opener at Tampa Bay with nine carries for 31 yards. Last season, he was among the leading rushers in the preseason with 18 carries for 80 yards. But holes have a tendency to close on Berry, and his window of opportunity with the Ravens might be closing, too.