The Steelers’ claiming of Webb, a former fourth-round draft pick, could be an indication that cornerback Brice McCain sustained a significant groin injury Thursday night in the Steelers' preseason finale.
The loss of McCain for an extended period would weaken a position where Steelers are not particularly deep. Rookie Shaquille Richardson is nursing a knee injury and the fifth-round pick is a candidate for the short-term injured reserve list, though the Steelers would first have to put him on the 53-man roster.
The Steelers have yet to announce any cuts, and they have until 4 p.m. ET on Saturday to finalize their 53-man roster.
The Steelers will essentially redshirt Zumwalt after he missed most of their offseason practices because UCLA had not completed its school year. The sixth-round pick has been hampered by a groin injury, and Zumwalt has not played since the Steelers’ first preseason game on Aug. 9.
The Cleveland Browns were still discussing roster decisions as of 3:30 p.m. Friday when coach Mike Pettine held a conference call with the media.
It’s not expected the Browns will announce roster decisions until Saturday.
Pettine touched on a number of topics in his call. Among them:
- The cutdown to 53 on Saturday might not be final. Pettine said any options are open to improving the roster based on the players other teams release. “I wouldn’t preclude any of it,” he said.
- It would be a surprise, but Pettine left open the possibility of not keeping a third quarterback. If they do, it would almost certainly be Rex Grossman, who showed with his passing that he has great familiarity with the offense. Pettine said the quarterback debate was part of the process: “When it gets down to that spot, you’re weighing it against who is the best player to keep at that point.”
- Running back Isaiah Crowell's 100-yard game against the end of the Chicago Bears roster helped his case to make the team, but Pettine said the decision on Crowell is “no different than weighing the quarterback. It’s a body of work.”
- Pettine said more than once this preseason that final roster decisions belong to GM Ray Farmer. But he also said that though he and Farmer might disagree, the GM will not shove a player down the coaching staff’s throat. “I think he and I see football pretty much the same way,” Pettine said, adding: “This is very much a collaboration.”
- The Browns considered signing Santonio Holmes, but the circumstances did not work for him to join the team. Holmes recently signed with the Bears and had a touchdown Thursday night.
- Receiver Willie Snead helped himself. Of the pass that hit his hands thrown by Johnny Manziel, Pettine said the ball was behind him and he was going full speed across the middle.
- Manziel had a tough night throwing the ball, admitting himself it came out of his hand poorly at times. Pettine said one throw wobbled so much he thought it was tipped at the line. “That was a little different for him,” Pettine said. “I always liked how he threw the deep balls.” On the up side, he added that on certain plays Manziel was a little more decisive with his reads.
- Finally, on the offense, the coach said: “Our offense doesn’t have to be exciting. It can be real boring as long as we’re gaining yards and scoring points.”
Quarterback Tyler Wilson, defensive tackle LaKendrick Ross and linebacker Brandon Joiner were released as the Bengals made their first few cuts from the current 75-man roster. By 4 p.m. Saturday, all 32 NFL teams have to get down to 53 players on their active rosters. Wilson, Ross and Joiner could qualify for the practice squad, but until all the other cuts are made, it's unclear exactly how the practice squad will shake out.
Cincinnati's roster now sits at 71.
Wilson was signed during the preseason following No. 2 quarterback Jason Campbell's elbow injury during the preseason opener at Kansas City. Wilson has since appeared in two games. He played in the Week 2 preseason game against the Jets and got extensive second-half action in Thursday night's preseason finale against the Colts. He was 3-of-5 for 73 yards. The bulk of his yards came on a 50-yard touchdown pass to Cobi Hamilton, another roster-bubble player who was one of Wilson's receivers when the two played college ball at Arkansas.
Hamilton will learn his fate Saturday.
As for Ross, the Bengals are cutting ties for now with a 6-foot-5, 360-pound player who has raw athletic skills. He was too unpolished to make the Bengals' 53-man roster, or any team's 53-man roster. Before impressing coaches at a private workout before training camp, Ross had played only one year of high school football and one year of college football at a small school in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Ross had one tackle Thursday and appeared on 23 defensive plays.
Joiner played 29 defensive snaps and was part of 15 special teams plays in the Bengals' 35-7 win.
In addition to these four, the Bengals also cut several others earlier this week, including backup quarterback Matt Scott, kicker Quinn Sharp and linebacker J.K. Schaffer. Per the rules of the waived/injured designation, Schaffer and fellow hurt cornerback Lavelle Westbrooks were able to rejoin the team on its injured reserve Thursday. Both cleared waivers without being claimed.
There were no surprises in the five released: tight end Nathan Overbay, outside linebacker D.J. Roberts, center Reggie Stephens and defensive tackles Levi Brown and Derrick Hopkins.
Three of the Ravens waived were undrafted rookies (Hopkins, Brown and Roberts) and no one had more than two years of experience. Hopkins, from Virginia Tech, received the biggest signing bonus ($10,000) of any of the Ravens' undrafted players.
The Ravens have to make 17 more roster moves to get down to 53 players by 4 p.m. Saturday.
Two of the moves will be placing running back Ray Rice (two games) and safety Will Hill (six games) on the suspended list. Another potential move is putting nose tackle Terrence Cody (hip) on the Physically Unable to Perform reserve list, which would sideline him for at least the first six games of the regular season.
The Ravens can sign 10 players to the practice squad, so they might only be cutting ties with four players Saturday.
Here is my projected 53-man roster for the Ravens.
Are we shocked the Cincinnati Bengals duo is so highly regarded? Are we stunned? Did we really expect anything more?
No. No. And no.
Respectively, Green and Atkins were ranked the ninth- and 10th-best players on their side of the ball. Only eight players were ahead of Green, including the top overall offensive player, Detroit wideout Calvin Johnson, and New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham. Atkins was surpassed by nine other defensive players including Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, the player tabbed in this survey as the top current defender in the league.
Atkins actually fell to 10th after being ranked seventh last year. Still, it's rather amazing he still was included in the top 10 after missing half of last season with an ACL injury. That's a testament to his past success and the optimism many share this season as he comes off the serious injury. He's set to open the season next weekend with the Bengals when they travel to Baltimore. Green remained at No. 9, where he was the year before.
Green and Atkins joined linebacker Vontaze Burfict (No. 32, defense), defensive end Carlos Dunlap (No. 86, defense), running back Giovani Bernard (No. 88, offense) and offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth (No. 92, offense) as Bengals to appear on the countdown. Only two players in that group haven't been to the Pro Bowl, Bernard and Dunlap. A former undrafted free agent, Burfict attended his first Pro Bowl at the end of his second season last year.
All but two of those players also have negotiated big second deals with the Bengals. Green and Bernard are the only ones who have not. Bernard can't start speaking with the Bengals about a contract extension until after next season. Green and his representatives can begin those conversations now, but it's not likely he'll receive a long-term deal for some time. Earlier this year the Bengals exercised their fifth-year option on him, meaning he's slated to make more than $10 million next season after playing out the final year of his original four-year rookie contract this season.
Green and Atkins have been among the best at their positions in recent seasons. An NFL.com survey of players earlier this year actually considered Green the No. 2 receiver in the league behind Johnson. If you classify Graham as a tight end and not a receiver, the same holds true in the #NFLRank survey.
The #NFLRank series, which debuted last Monday, ranked the Top 100 players in the league. Players were separated into offense and defense.
Earlier this summer, many of the people behind ESPN's NFL coverage, including myself, made individual rankings for the overall project.
You can read the full series here.
Below are blurbs from the series on Green and Atkins:
Green was the most-targeted receiver in the NFL last year, leading the league with 178 targets. Green's eight touchdown receptions on passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield last season were the most in the NFL.
-- ESPN Stats & Information (@ESPNStatsInfo)
Despite missing nearly half of last season, Atkins leads all defensive tackles with 29 sacks since he entered the league in 2010. Atkins is the first Bengals defender selected to consecutive Pro Bowls since David Fulcher (1988-90).
-- ESPN Stats & Information (@ESPNStatsInfo)
It might also be their last major order of business before the start of the regular season.
The Steelers have signed center Maurkice Pouncey, right tackle Marcus Gilbert and kicker Shaun Suisham to new long-term contracts since June.
Outside linebacker Jason Worilds and cornerback Cortez Allen remain the only starters who are candidates to receive new deals. The Steelers don't negotiate player contracts during the regular season, so it would be an understatement to say that the clock is ticking.
"There’s probably a chance we’ll do one more contract," Rooney said. "I don’t know if we will get it done or not, but we’re pretty much done with the signing process as we’re heading into the season."
Worilds is probably the odd man out even if the Steelers sign one more player to a new long-term contract before Sept. 7.
The fifth-year veteran will make $9.754 million in 2014 after signing the one-year contract the Steelers offered him when they used a transition tag on him in March, and the Steelers might not be willing to offer the kind of multi-year deal to make it worth it for Worilds to pass up making nearly $10 million this season.
The Steelers will still have some measure of control when it comes to Worilds’ rights even if they don’t sign him to a new contract before the start of the regular season.
They can tag Worilds again next year, which would prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent when the 2015 NFL year starts.
The Steelers appear to be content to see if Worilds can build on his strong second half from last season and then decide whether they are ready to commit to the former second-round draft pick long term.
Allen is the more likely of the two to sign a new contract becausee it might be more feasible -- and palatable -- for the Steelers from a financial standpoint.
Allen, whose cap hit is $1.529 million this season, is a promising young cornerback who has yet to put it together for an entire season. His signing a long-term contract would provide security for both Allen and the Steelers, who are thin at cornerback.
Given where the respective sides are coming from, it seems a lot more likely that Allen, not Worilds, and the Steelers find common ground on a new deal before the organization shuts down contract negotiations until next year.
As we've been mentioning, it wasn't much of a surprise. The goal in the finale was to remain healthy and spare the contributing players as much as possible. That definitely happened.
The only starter who actually took the field for the first drives was rookie center Russell Bodine. As the only rookie starter on the team, he was being trotted out to receive a little extra playing time before the regular season . Along with him, rookie running back Jeremy Hill saw serious minutes. Hill might not be a true starter in the official sense, but he should expect to receive significant playing time this season.
As you'll see below, Hill was on the field for 38 plays. Long enough to rush 20 times for 90 yards and catch six passes for 63. Coach Marvin Lewis said the objective was for Hill to get used to playing a full game. Because once the regular season begins the hope is to give him several touches a game behind fellow back Giovani Bernard.
Here's a snapshot of Cincinnati's snap counts from Week 4:
OFFENSE (56 plays)
WR Cobi Hamilton (52), OT Will Svitek (48), OT Marshall Newhouse (47), OT Tanner Hawkinson (44), WR Colin Lockett (42), OL Mike Pollak (39), RB Jeremy Hill (38), QB Jason Campbell (34), WR Dane Sanzenbacher (31), C Russell Bodine (31), OG T.J. Johnson (31), H-back Ryan Hewitt (28), TE Alex Smith (28), C Trevor Robinson (26), H-back Orson Charles (24), FB Nikita Whitlock (23), QB Tyler Wilson (23), RB James Wilder Jr. (19), OT Dan France (19).
DEFENSE (61 plays)
LB Marquis Flowers (58), S Shawn Williams (55), S Danieal Manning (52), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (51), CB Chris Lewis-Harris (49), DE Will Clarke (49), DT David King (44), S Taylor Mays (43), LB Jayson DiManche (39), DT Christo Bilukidi (38), CB Victor Hampton (37), DE Margus Hunt (33), DE Dontay Moch (32), LB Brandon Joiner (29), DE Sam Montgomery (28), DT LaKendrick Ross (23), CB Onterio McCalebb (13), LB Vincent Rey (13), DT Brandon Thompson (5), LB Sean Porter (2).
SPECIAL TEAMS (22 plays)
Hamilton (10), Svitek (5), Newhouse (1), Hawkinson (5), Lockett (10), Pollak (4), Hill (4), Sanzenbacher (8), Bodine (1), Johnson (1), Hewitt (13), Smith (7), Robinson (4), Charles (18), Whitlock (11), Wilder (12), France (5), Flowers (13), Williams (12), Manning (10), Kirkpatrick (9), Lewis-Harris (11), Clarke (2), King (4), Mays (11), DiManche (15), Bilukidi (1), Hampton (12), Moch (14), Joiner (15), Montgomery (14), Ross (1), McCalebb (13), Rey (4), Porter (4), K Mike Nugent (11), P Kevin Huber (11), LS Clark Harris (11).
So if Pierce is unable to play in the season opener, who would start at running back for the Baltimore Ravens? Veteran journeyman Justin Forsett, who hasn't made a start since 2010, could be the one to step up.
Of the Ravens' 24 healthy scratches in the preseason finale, 18 are projected to be starters. The fact that Forsett didn't play as well could suggest the Ravens wanted to keep him healthy for the opener.
The Ravens might trust Forsett to handle the starting role because he's more experienced than rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro and is more familiar with Gary Kubiak's offense after playing in Houston in 2012.
But Forsett wouldn't be asked to carry the entire rushing load. He only had six carries all of last season, and the Ravens would probably split carries with Taliaferro, who led the team with 243 yards rushing this preseason.
A small back, Forsett has impressed the Ravens with his burst. He ran for 69 yards on 16 carries (4.3-yard average) and caught three passes for 37 yards in preseason games. His biggest problem has been holding on to the football (two fumbles this preseason).
None of this speculation will matter if Pierce is able to suit up for the Sept. 7 season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. Even though Pierce has been banged up throughout his career, he has never missed a game in his two seasons.
There is just no certainty that he'll be healthy enough this time to play.
"Nowadays, with those things, I don't take any stock in that until they tell me that he's back," coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "The concussion thing is hard to predict."
Grossman secured the third spot with the way he played against Chicago.
RUNNING BACKS (3)
It's impossible to ignore the way Crowell ran against the Bears. He looked quick, strong and topped 100 yards. If the Browns released him, they'd never get him back on the practice squad. He earned a spot.
Gray is about as solidly on the bubble as any player on the team. His versatility should have helped him, but he did not play tremendously well in the preseason.
WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
Not exactly a well-stocked group. Gabriel earned a spot with solid play. Snead earns it based on potential, but don't be surprised if his spot goes to someone who was cut by another team. Snead seems more like a practice squad candidate.
TIGHT ENDS (3)
The Browns are well-fortified with the three tight ends they have.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
- Joe Thomas
- Joel Bitonio
- Alex Mack
- John Greco
- Mitchell Schwartz
- Garrett Gilkey
- Paul McQuistan
- Martin Wallace
- Reid Fragel
A group that seems very settled.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (7)
Another unit that seems pretty well stocked.
The Browns could keep eight here and not keep Snead or Gray, except nobody really jumped out as an active pass-rushing type. So go with these seven.
The Browns will scan the waiver wire here, and may be as active trying to strengthen this spot as they will be at receiver. Depth is needed. Badly.
It's a toss-up for the fourth safety spot between Poyer and Josh Aubrey. I like Aubrey, but he could be practice squad eligible. The coaches also seem to like Poyer.
No need to change anything here, as all were strong and dependable contributors.
AJ McCarron would be the odd man out. He didn't practice in training camp after being placed on the active non-football injury list, and it doesn't seem like he's going to practice anytime soon. After Matt Scott was cut earlier this week that leaves fellow backup Tyler Wilson to potentially contend for a practice squad spot. He isn't likely to make the 53-man roster.
RUNNING BACKS (5)
This grouping includes Hewitt at H-back, meaning the Bengals are more likely to take four halfbacks. Burkhead, Peerman and Hewitt are not locks to make the team, but there are compelling reasons for each being part of the 53-man roster. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and James Wilder Jr. also have chances to make the final roster, but in Green-Ellis' case that's really hard to see. He hasn't played in two weeks and has barely practiced in that time. Wilder had a strong 11-carry, 49-yard rushing performance that mostly covered the fourth quarter. Like Green-Ellis, Burkhead also hasn't practiced or played in two weeks after suffering a Week 2 knee injury. The last halfback spot could be one of the toughest decisions the Bengals have to make this year. As for Hewitt, I included him over Orson Charles because he has seemed to impress more throughout camp, and seems more versatile. Nikita Whitlock also is competing for a fullback job.
The top three on this list are locks to make the team. If this group holds, that means former practice squad player Cobi Hamilton and undrafted rookie Colin Lockett won't make the team. Tate, who was left off earlier roster projections, had been impressive catching passes in training-camp practices, and has been listed as the starting kick and punt returner on the team's depth charts. It's tough to say if he will stick, though, now that others, like Adam Jones and Sanzenbacher, have gotten in-game work at both return positions. Sanzenbacher returned a punt for a touchdown Thursday against the Colts. Of the possible cuts listed here, Hamilton's size (6-foot-2) and leaping ability make him a possible pick to make the team, but he's been inconsistent. Wright's special-teams background and his consistently strong showing in training camp make him a very real possibility to make the team, too, although an apparent head injury ran him from Sunday's game, and he had three big special teams penalties in the three games he played. He didn't play Thursday.
TIGHT ENDS (3)
Gresham is entering a contract year, and expectations have never been higher for him.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)
- Andrew Whitworth
- Andre Smith
- Kevin Zeitler
- Mike Pollak
- Clint Boling
- Marshall Newhouse
- T.J. Johnson
- Tanner Hawkinson
- Russell Bodine
- Trey Hopkins
It's common for teams to have nine or 10 linemen, and if the Bengals do injury-list McCarron, it seems likely Cincinnati would keep 10 linemen this season, instead of the nine I previously had been predicting. This group seems to provide the versatility coaches are seeking. Of the undrafted free-agent linemen the Bengals signed this year, Hopkins -- a versatile guard who was used in a variety of ways this spring -- has the best shot to make the team. A serious shin injury on Sunday, though, could affect him. Depending on the injury's severity, he could find himself placed on injured reserve to open up another spot that could go to a sixth back like Wilder. Coaches had been very high on Hopkins' play before the injury. For now, we'll bank on the injury being more minor than it appeared. He'll stick if so.
DEFENSIVE LINE (9)
- Carlos Dunlap
- Wallace Gilberry
- Margus Hunt
- Robert Geathers
- Will Clarke
- Geno Atkins
- Domata Peko
- Brandon Thompson
- Devon Still
The only player on this list who wasn't on last year's 53-man roster is Will Clarke. The rookie was drafted in the third round in May. He effectively takes the roster spot of Michael Johnson, who signed with Tampa Bay in the offseason. This might be the most settled group on the team.
Like the receivers, the top spots at linebacker are squared away. In this case, it's a lock that Burfict, Lamur, Rey and Maualuga will make the team. The two remaining linebackers are part of one of the better position battles on the team. DiManche has the best chance of the remaining linebackers to make the team. Flowers could be in a scenario similar to McCarron, Wilder, Lockett and Hopkins in that he has tools the Bengals don't want to risk losing by placing him on the practice squad where he could be poached away. But with Lamur ahead of him, Flowers could be a good "redshirt" candidate. There is no need to rush him into his cover linebacker duties unless he really is ready to contribute. J.K. Schaffer earlier this week was one of two players placed on injured reserve after missing much of the preseason with two concussions.
After a strong preseason from this group, these are the Bengals' five cornerbacks this season. Chris Lewis-Harris has a shot to stick as a practice squad player after a solid preseason, too. He won't make the 53-man roster to start the season because he was suspended under the league's substance abuse policy in July. He'll miss the first two games.
This might be one of the tougher cuts Bengals coaches have to make if they end up keeping just four safeties. Shawn Williams has performed quite well so far this preseason in both training camp practices and games, but Manning has a measure of versatility as a special-teamer, a fluidity with which he plays defense and a locker room presence as a veteran that trumps Williams' promise and Mays' play.
These guys aren't going anywhere. The punter, kicker and long-snapper will make the team.
I felt going into the finale preseason game that Jones had to play his way off the roster. The second-year man didn't do that and the Steelers will give the 2013 fourth-round pick another season as the No. 3 quarterback.
RUNNING BACKS (4)
Josh Harris and Stephen Houston each had a nice run Thursday night against the Carolina Panthers. But neither got the kind of work that leads you to believe the Steelers are seriously considering one of them as a No. 4 running back. The question is which one will they keep for the practice squad.
WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
Bryant's shoulder injury, which is signficant, clinches the Steelers keeping six wide receivers. Heyward-Bey really emerged in the second half of the preseason and I see the sixth-year veteran not only making the team but also getting a helmet on game days. Justin Brown is the odd man out here if the Steelers only keep five wide receivers.
TIGHT ENDS (3)
Palmer isn't flashy but he blocks and is a solid contributor on special teams. Neither David Paulson nor rookie Rob Blanchflower did enough in the preseason finale to move past him. Blanchflower, a seventh-round pick, heads to the practice squad.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
- Maurkice Pouncey
- David DeCastro
- Ramon Foster
- Marcus Gilbert
- Kelvin Beachum
- Mike Adams
- Cody Wallace
- Wesley Johnson
Offensive line coach Mike Munchak will push for nine here. If he gets his wish Guy Whimper makes it for another season. If not Johnson, a rookie fifth-round pick, beats out the nine-year veteran because of his upside and versatility.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (6)
McCullers, thought to be a project, has been a pleasant surprise. The rookie sixth-round pick is a lock to make the team. Defensive end Josh Mauro, an undrafted rookie, makes the 53-man roster if the Steelers keep seven defensive linemen. If not the Steelers will try to sneak the Stanford product onto the practice squad.
- Lawrence Timmons
- Ryan Shazier
- Jason Worilds
- Jarvis Jones
- Vince Williams
- Arthur Moats
- Sean Spence
- Terence Garvin
- Howard Jones
Jones is the surprise here, and the undrafted rookie makes it over fourth-year veteran Chris Carter because of his ability to play special teams and his upside. I really want to put Jordan Zumwalt on the 53-man roster and the rookie sixth-round pick is a candidate for short-term injured reserve, which the Steelers can use on one player. The guess is that the Steelers take the small risk of waiving Zumwalt, who hasn't played since the preseason opener because of a groin injury, and then signing the UCLA product to the practice squad.
Richardson only played 17 snaps in two games before hurting his knee, and the rookie fifth-round pick is in a similar situation as Zumwalt. The Steelers keep him because they desperately need to develop some young cornerbacks.
The Steelers have a tough cut to make if they only keep four safeties. Golden has more upside but Allen is a dependable veteran. Both are good special teams players. I think both make the 53-man roster.
Coach Mike Tomlin seems to be high on Wing, who has been the Steelers' only punter since the start of training camp. Consistency was an issue for him in the preseason and the Steelers could keep a close eye on the waiver wire even if Wing makes the 53-man roster. We also may have not heard the last from veteran Adam Podlesh, who has yet to report to the Steelers because of a family matter.
This should be the fifth straight year that the Ravens only keep two quarterbacks. Keith Wenning didn't do enough in his two preseason games that would entice another team to put him on its 53-man roster. So, the Ravens can get Wenning on the practice squad. Plus, the Ravens would like to use their last roster spot on a special teams player, not a third quarterback.
Running backs (4)
Nothing has changed with this position all summer. Rice, Pierce, Taliaferro and Juszczyk are locks to make the team. Rice has been suspended for the first two games of the season, which allows the Ravens to carry Forsett. Fitzgerald Toussaint's 103 yards in the preseason finale earns him a spot on the practice squad.
This was the toughest position to project. The Ravens have to keep at least six because of the strength of the depth. The locks here are Torrey Smith, Steve Smith, Brown and Jones. When you look at the No. 5 receiver, his ability on special teams outweighs his impact as a receiver because his role is going to primarily be on the coverage and return teams. That's why Aiken still gets the nod here. Campanaro has more upside as a receiver than Deonte Thompson, which is why he gets the last spot. How can the Ravens cut Thompson? Well, the Ravens cut running back Bobby Rainey last year after he led the team in rushing, punt returns and kickoff returns. Perhaps, the Ravens could trade Thompson.
Tight ends (3)
The Ravens say Daniels' leg fatigue won't affect his status for the regular season so there is no drama at this position. Pitta is the clear cut No. 1, and Gillmore should see time as a rookie third-round pick.
Offensive linemen (9)
- Eugene Monroe
- Kelechi Osemele
- Jeremy Zuttah
- Marshal Yanda
- Rick Wagner
- Gino Gradkowski
- A.Q. Shipley
- Jah Reid
- John Urschel
Monroe, Osemele, Zuttah, Yanda and Wagner are the starters. Gradkowski and Shipley, two starters from last season, are safe. Reid is the top backup tackle, but he is still dealing with a concussion. Urschel should have secured a spot over Ryan Jensen, who committed two holding penalties in the preseason finale.
Defensive linemen (5)
Ngata, Canty and Williams have been the starters throughout training camp and the preseason. Jernigan and Tyson are the Ravens' top two backups. It looks like Terrence Cody will start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list. The Ravens can go with five linemen because Pernell McPhee can move to defensive end in a pinch. Nose tackle Derrick Hopkins can be stored on the practice squad.
- Terrell Suggs
- C.J. Mosley
- Daryl Smith
- Courtney Upshaw
- Elvis Dumervil
- Arthur Brown
- John Simon
- Pernell McPhee
- Josh Bynes
Simon likely saved his spot with a strong performance in the preseason finale. The Ravens also don't get rid of fourth round picks a year after drafting them. They give them time to develop. The need for veteran depth at cornerback, where the Ravens are banged up, pushes out Albert McClellan. It's a tough call because McClellan led the Ravens in special teams tackles last season. The Ravens could bring back McClellan later in the season.
Injury issues at cornerback force the Ravens to carry a sixth cornerback. The Ravens anticipate their top three cornerbacks (Smith, Webb and Jackson) to be healthy enough to play in the regular season. But none were practicing this past week. The Ravens have to keep veterans like Franks and Cox for insurance. Cox made some plays in the preseason finale despite not practicing with the team. Undrafted rookies Tramain Jacobs and Sammy Seamster can go on the practice squad.
Elam and Stewart remain the starters. Brooks, a rookie third-round pick, has generated buzz recently from his play at nickelback. Miles struggled on defense in the preseason finale, but he gets a spot because of his special teams play. Levine is a core special teams player who increased his value by playing cornerback as well. Trawick is probably the 53rd player, although the Ravens may go with a linebacker like McClellan instead. Hill is on the suspended list until the middle of October.
There's no decision to be made on the specialists. Tucker, Koch and Cox team up for the third straight season.
“The rules are the rules,” Pettine said after the preseason win over the Bears. “The league has a system that they set up. It was collectively bargained. We respect it.”
“But we move forward,” he said. “How it played out was not ideal circumstances for us, obviously, but that’s behind us. Our full focus now is getting this team ready. You can’t worry about guys you don’t have.”
Andrew Hawkins will get the first chance to start opposite Miles Austin, though Hawkins will move inside to the slot on third downs, with probably Nate Burleson playing outside in three-receiver sets. Pettine said the team will focus on a committee approach to replacing Gordon.
“I’ve said this all along, you don’t replace a Josh Gordon, a top-five NFL receiver, with just one player,” Pettine said. “I think you have to get creative with what you do, and roll some different guys in there, maybe change some personnel groupings and get some different matchups. That’s the challenge that we face.”
Left tackle Joe Thomas spoke to a group of reporters that included 92.3-The Fan in Cleveland, USA Today and the Northeast Ohio Media Group. He lamented what he called a program that doesn’t reflect “the morals of society today.”
“The problem is that now you're sitting in a situation where you have a collective bargaining agreement that lasts 10 years and in the middle of it nobody's going to want to go back to the bargaining table and try to hash out things that may be an issue as they clearly are on a number of different levels, but that are only going to affect a couple of people,” Thomas said.
“I think there's a resistance from management of the NFL and also from the Players Association to do that type of needed updating of the drug policy because obviously there's some oversights when they wrote the program and some cultural changes that have happened that I don't think the program accurately reflects the morals of society today and the NFL and pro sports in general."
"I told Troy [Blackburn] I'll be back in 2016," Burfict told ESPN.com in the Bengals' locker room after Thursday night's preseason finale. "Obviously they trust me, and like I've said, I want to be a leader of the defense. We have great things to come for the next three years while I'm here."
Blackburn is one of the Bengals' two vice presidents. He's also the husband of executive vice president Katie Blackburn, the daughter of president Mike Brown. Brown's father, Paul Brown, founded the team in 1968 and owned it until his death in 1991.
With Mike Brown beginning to transition out of the team's daily operations, the Blackburns -- most notably Katie -- have been behind some of the more recent big-salary moves the Bengals have made. It was under Katie Blackburn's guidance that Burfict's extension, as well as extensions for quarterback Andy Dalton and defensive tackle Geno Atkins, were drawn.
Burfict said he liked the way the contract was set up.
"It's front-loaded," he said, nodding slowly, "and I'll make a lot of money in the next six months."
He clearly wasn't trying to brag, but he was telling the truth. He stands to make $7.6 million this season, with additional bonus money coming in March. Within the next six months, he'll make $10.8 million. As an undrafted free agent who signed out of Arizona State just two years ago, Burfict had been scheduled to make a little more than $570,000 this season. He certainly received quite the pay day.
As we pointed out Wednesday, you'll be hard-pressed to find too many other players make that type of raise after only two years in part because of the way the new collective bargaining agreement is set up. A player basically has to follow Burfict's path -- be undrafted, but perform really, really well right away.
"Me getting a new contract in two years was huge, and it's rare," Burfict said. "But I've put in a lot of work and I feel like I deserve it."
Burfict has 298 career tackles. Of those, a league-leading 171 came in last season's Pro Bowl campaign.