1. How will the new-look passing game perform?
Don’t blink or you might miss quarterback Joe Flacco launching spirals to wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Donte’ Stallworth, the Ravens’ new additions outside. The starters aren’t expected to play more than a quarter, but that should be enough time to take in a sneak preview of how offensive coordinator Cam Cameron mixes in the new talent to go with Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice and veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason. The Ravens are determined to open up their passing game while remaining committed to their smash-mouth running attack spearheaded by Rice, Pro Bowl fullback Le’Ron McClain and former Pro Bowl running back Willis McGahee.
2. Will one of the kickers take the lead?
The duel between Shayne Graham and Billy Cundiff begins to get serious tonight. They’ll alternate field goals, according to coach John Harbaugh. Graham had a perfect 9 for 9 day during last weekend’s downtown practice, but has had some rough days in Westminster. He flubbed three of four attempts Tuesday with errant kicks from 57, 52 and 35 yards sailing wide left. Meanwhile, Cundiff made all but one kick from 46 yards. He also hit a 52-yarder. This one is too close to call yet, but Graham is still regarded as the frontrunner. He’ll need to outperform Cundiff in preseason games to ultimately win the job.
3. Are the Ravens going to be able to hold up at cornerback and offensive tackle?
The Ravens are expected to start Cary Williams and Travis Fisher at cornerback because of injuries to Chris Carr (hamstring) and Fabian Washington (knee). The coaches and trainers want to play it safe with those guys, which is a wise move following Domonique Foxworth’s season-ending knee injury. Plus, these exhibition games don’t count. The Ravens’ pass rush will need to take over at times. Undrafted rookie cornerback Prince Miller, all 5-foot-8, 198 pounds of him, will be tested as the nickel back. Especially if he lines up against big wide receivers like Dwayne Jarrett (6-foot-4, 219 pounds) and Brandon LaFell (6-foot-2, 210 pounds).
Meanwhile, the Ravens are especially thin at offensive tackle. With Jared Gaither and Tony Moll sidelined, Oniel Cousins will start. Rookie sixth-round pick Ramon Harewood might be pressed into a lot of action as well as former college basketball player Joe Reitz. The Ravens have to protect Flacco and backup Marc Bulger from unnecessary risks.
4. Will the new defensive starters look out of place?
With star free safety Ed Reed out indefinitely following offseason hip surgery, Tom Zbikowski is in the lead to fill his considerable cleats. Zbikowski is out to prove that he’s more than an enforcer and has upgraded his flexibility and conditioning. He’s trying to hold off Ken Hamlin, and has proven capable of achieving that goal so far. Inside linebacker Jameel McClain is trying to pin down the job next to All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis and has been more consistent than competitors Dannell Ellerbe and Tavares Gooden. McClain’s instincts and toughness sets him apart. Veteran defensive end Cory Redding has asserted himself immediately with his intensity and technique.
5. Who’s not playing?
Besides Carr, Washington, Gaither (back spasms) and Moll (concussion), the Ravens could also be without: offensive guard Daniel Sanders (shoulder), safety Marcus Paschal (right quadriceps), cornerback K.J. Gerard (hamstring) and offensive guard Ben Grubbs (undisclosed). Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (back spasm) has said he’ll definitely play and Mason (ankle, bruised knee) is also expected to play. Ineligible to play as they remain on the physically unable to perform list: Reed, linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo (quadriceps), cornerback Lardarius Webb (knee) and running back Matt Lawrence (knee).