NOTE: Crazy roster moves have been made before, during, and after this post. I will give my reactions later today, when the chaos calms.
When Dennis Pitta was lost to a season-long injury (well, maybe not the whole season) and Ed Dickson injured his hamstring, the tight end corps was drastically depleted. Billy Bajema, the veteran, and Matt Furstenburg, the highly touted undrafted free agent, who were supposed to only battle for the third tight end position, were now thrust up the depth chart. Not what people envisioned for the Ravens’ offense.
Enter Dallas Clark, the heralded (but possibly not-much-left-in-the-tank) veteran. Signed in early August, he was to bring a pass catching stability, and another third down option, to Joe Flacco and the offense.
Clark’s first preseason game was a little uneven, but not unexpected because of his limited time within the offense. According to Pro Football Focus, he played 40 snaps: 16 pass plays, 22 run block plays, and two pass plays on which he stayed in to block. Two targets, zero receptions, with one of the non-receptions a “business decision.” Again, not a stellar performance, but not completely unexpected.
Then came preseason game number four, a game where the starters rested. No Flacco, no Ray Rice, no Torrey Smith, no Brandon Stokley (another late training camp addition), no starters on the offensive line. But, curiously Clark played 35 snaps. In preseason game number four. Thirty-five plays—18 pass plays, 17 run plays. Why?
The argument could be made that Clark needed more time to get in synch with the offense. But Flacco wasn’t there, so there goes the chemistry angle. Maybe Clark needed to round into game shape? Stokley was benched, and they signed him the same weekend. I don’t think game-shape is the issue. Does Clark need more time to absorb the playbook? If so, that’s not too comforting.
Questions abound. Is Clark on the roster bubble? Why else is a supposed major contributor playing so deep into a meaningless preseason game?
Is the coaching staff unsure of what Clark can actually contribute? Would the Ravens actually cut the veteran and go with the unproven rookie Furtsenburg?
I think Bajema is on the team. He is only tight end who can actually block. It would be surprising if the Ravens kept three pass catching tight ends, especially with only eight offensive linemen (barring a late addition from another team) on the team. If this is all true, the position battle is actually between Clark and Furstenburg.
There is some hesitance concerning stashing Furstenburg on the practice squad, as he may not last—another team could easily scarf him up once he is left exposed on the practice squad. That being said, Furstenburg may not have helped himself too much against the Rams on Thursday night. He did not exactly light up the stat sheet. Actually, it went dark, with zero receptions on one target, which resulted in an interception. Did this give the decision makers more pause?
The Ravens have a roster quandary at the tight end position. Do they keep a wily veteran in the twilight of his career, or do they go with the unproven rookie who has flashed some promise this preseason? Or, do they risk losing Furstenburg by keeping Clark on the 53-man roster and putting Furstenburg on the practice squad?
Short-term gains versus long-term potential. Neither is a lock to solve the issue at the tight end position.
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An avid sports fan, and a passionate Ravens fan. However, I don't always wear the purple-shaded glasses.