With strong preseason, QB Trace McSorley has ‘earned the right’ to be in Ravens’ plans

The Baltimore Sun (TNS)
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Trace McSorley in action during a preseason NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
  • Trace McSorley is enjoying a potentially record-breaking preseason with the Ravens.
  • Ravens coach John Harbaugh: McSorley "earned the right to be in our plans."
  • In the preseason, McSorley has passed for 362 yards, with three TDs and two picks.

When Trace McSorley was growing up in Ashburn, Virginia, the NFL was never far away.

The high school where he won three state championships, Briar Woods, is a 7-mile drive from Redskins Park, the team’s headquarters. Washington safety Sean Taylor was a client of his mother’s, a real estate agent. Linebacker Eddie Mason became a mentor.

“I was one of those kids at the Redskins’ practice,” the Ravens rookie quarterback recalled Tuesday. “It was really cool from that standpoint for me and my perspective now, being able to see the other side of it.”

McSorley is almost fully on the other side of it now. When the Ravens drafted the former Penn State star in the sixth round in April, they envisioned him as a Taysom Hill-type weapon, a special teams contributor with a dual-threat skill set that could change a game.

Potentially historic preseason: In the month since training camp opened, that thinking has changed, if only slightly. Coming off the best performance of his NFL career, McSorley has perhaps played himself into the Ravens’ longer-term plans at quarterback. He still might see some special teams snaps Thursday at Fedex Field against the Redskins, his childhood team. But it’s his potentially historic preseason passing totals that have made an omission from the Ravens’ 53-man roster hard to envision.

“He’s done a good job. It’s hard. It’s a hard position to operate,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Trace has definitely, definitely, earned the right to be in our plans, one way or another. We’ll see how it shakes out. We don’t know. It’s a decision that still has to be made, but I think he’s done everything he can do, for sure.”

In three games, two as a backup for Lamar Jackson and one as a starter, McSorley is 36-for-63 (57.1%) for 362 passing yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s not been as efficient as, say, the New York Giants’ Daniel Jones (140.1 passer rating) or as prolific as the New England Patriots’ Jarrett Stidham (506 passing yards, most among rookies), but he still ranks fifth among first-year quarterbacks this preseason in passing yards, third in attempts and fourth in completions.

Comparisons to previous preseason QBs: In Baltimore, that’s more than a good start. Considering the franchise’s instability at quarterback before Joe Flacco’s arrival in 2008, the Ravens’ preseason passing history reads like a grave warning of throws to come. Even eventual standouts did not exactly light it up early.

In 2008, over four games and two starts, first-round pick Flacco finished 35-for-67 (52.2%) for 284 yards, a touchdown and an interception and a 68.3 passer rating. Three years later, Tyrod Taylor debuted with an impressive 408 passing yards and 61.7% completion rate over four games (one start) — but also three interceptions to his one touchdown (66.5 rating). In five games (one start) last year, Jackson completed just half of his throws while throwing for 408 yards, three touchdowns and an interception (77.3 rating).

Only so much can be gleaned from a historical comparison. Each rookie played on a different team, against different defenses, in a different league. Maybe the Ravens’ most impressive rookie quarterback in preseason history, Kyle Boller (86.4 rating), is remembered for his recurring regular-season flops.

Could set records: With another solid game Thursday, McSorley could leapfrog other Ravens rookies for the most passing yardage and most passing touchdowns, among other marks, this millennium. (Preseason statistics from 2000 and earlier seasons are either scant or unreliable.)

“At the end of the day, being efficient and putting points on the board and giving our team the opportunity to win” have been important, said McSorley, who finished 19-for-28 for 203 yards, two touchdowns and an interception against the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday. “With our defense, they tend to make it easy on an offense, because they’re so good. But I think it’s just being able to come in as an offense and as a quarterback and be able to lead the team, move the ball efficiently, get points on the board.”

Role may be unclear: Even if McSorley survives cut-down day Saturday, his role on the 46-man game-day roster would be unclear. The Ravens had three quarterbacks active just once last season, and Harbaugh said Sunday that he still expects backup quarterback Robert Griffin III, whose hand injury early in camp ensured a robust snap count for McSorley, to be ready for the season opener.

A Hill-esque role is also unlikely to materialize early. Given his offensive workload, McSorley has played just three special teams snaps over the three preseason games, including none Thursday.

He could supplant Griffin as backup next year: With Griffin under contract only through next year, when he’s set to turn 30 and count $2.5 million against the salary cap, the Ravens will have to consider who might best serve as Jackson’s backup for the seasons to come. McSorley’s performance this preseason, especially against a first-team Eagles defense early Thursday night, has made him unlikely to clear waivers, which he’d have to do if the Ravens want him on their practice squad.

“Trace is doing well,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Sunday. “I thought he played well the other night in the game, did a great job of leading the team. The statistics and all that were very good, but he just played the position really well. I thought he took a big step there. Anytime a guy plays well, that’s good, because really, as a player, what you put on the film is really your resume. I have to tip my hat to him.”

Focus on Thursday: McSorley’s focus this week is Thursday’s game. He said he hasn’t considered where he fits in the Ravens roster projections, hasn’t talked to veterans about what to expect leading up to Saturday’s 4 p.m. deadline, hasn’t thought about what he’ll do to pass the time between Thursday night and then.

He can only control how he practices and plays, he said. Then he’ll try to learn from it, whether that’s in Baltimore or elsewhere.

“That just comes with the position, the good and the bad,” he said, echoing a message from quarterbacks coach James Urban. “You have to be able to take it all and move on to the next play.”