Tonight when the Ravens host the 49ers at M&T Bank Stadium most fans will, for the first time, see the 2014 Ravens hopefuls in action. There will be many new faces in many new places and it could be hard to keep track of all the moving parts.
Influenced by what we’ve seen during OTA’s and Training Camp, let me present a 2014 Preseason Game 1 Guide for Dummies (I should know)…
THINGS TO LOOK FOR
The biggest culprit during the Ravens disappointing title defense season was the offensive line. Now with Eugene Monroe in training camp with his running mates from the start, the return of Kelechi Osemele, a marked upgrade at center with Jeremy Zuttah and a healthy Marshal Yanda combined with an offensive coaching staff on the same page, the offensive front has looked sharp.
Let’s see if they can get it done when the preseason lights come on.
Naturally most eyes will be on right tackle, the consensus mystery position of line coach Juan Castillo’s unit. Ricky Wagner has played well in camp. It’s now time to take the momentum from the practice field to the turf of M&T against a formidable 49ers front.
When CJ Mosley was drafted many assumed that the Ravens were disenchanted with Arthur Brown. Nothing could be further from the truth. The two could be paired together for years to come and they’ve had an opportunity to get reps together given Daryl Smith’s minor leg injury during camp.
Mosley and Brown or Mosley and Smith seem like the most likely and complementary tandem at ILB. Smith and Brown both seem like better weak side ILB’s and aren’t as complementary.
More than likely Flacco will get a prescribed number of snaps unless things go horribly wrong and the coaching staff decides to keep the 1’s on the field longer. Flacco has been more precise than ever with his footwork and ball handling during camp. You will see him under center much more than the past couple of seasons with a focus on getting the ball out quickly. That’s a philosophical difference between Gary Kubiak and previous offensive coordinators. The trouble with a quick release is that it challenges accuracy, not exactly a strong point of Flacco’s.
Running The Rock
Ray Rice has looked very good throughout OTA’s and training camp. He’ll get his prerequisite work. What happens after Rice is of greater interest and more importance to start the season given No. 27’s two-game suspension. Bernard Pierce and the team doctors claim he’s ahead of schedule with the shoulder rehab. The offense is perfectly suited to his running style. We’ll see if he takes advantage.
Justin Forsett is likely to be the fan’s choice this preseason as Bobby Rainey has been in previous seasons. He’s a very solid receiver out of the backfield…Lorenzo Taliaferro is an intriguing runner with size, a burst and a desire to take on tacklers. His gallop is faster than it may initially appear.
FIGHTING FOR A JOB
Here are a few battles to watch with the understanding that one game, one performance doesn’t undermine the progress made during camp by any of these players. At this point it’s part of their individual bodies of work and not necessarily representative of what they’ve done this summer.
Asa Jackson v. Chykie Brown ~ The fact that Jackson has filled in for Lardarius Webb while he nurses a back injury should tell you who is out in front of this battle for the nickel corner job.
Butler v. Aiken v. Thompson ~ If you assume that Michael Campanaro will earn a spot on the team’s roster as the 5th WR, should the Ravens go with 6 wide receivers this trio will be fighting for that last spot. What they contribute on special teams could be the difference.
Jah Reid ~ Will he finally take the game seriously and use his physical tools in the way the team’s scouts expected when they made him a 2011 3rd round pick?
Darian Stewart ~ Stewart has played very well throughout camp and is a distant leader in the battle for the starting position opposite S Matt Elam. Stewart has battled injury issues throughout his career. If he’s healthy he’ll be a solid contributor. He has many natural abilities but unfortunately availability hasn’t been one of them. Third round pick Terrence Brooks has been hesitant. Paralysis by analysis comes to mind. Sort of like me on the golf course.
DON’T BE SURPRISED IF…
* The 49ers first team offense comes out firing. It’s hardly the Super Bowl but they’ll want to send a message and a small measure of revenge has to be on their collective mind. For old times sake let’s hope Jimmy Smith gets physical with Michael Crabtree again.
* You might be left with a knot in your stomach after Q1, worrying about the secondary. Remember, it’s a work in progress. Or so we hope…
* UDFA punter Richie Leone hits a bomb that makes you question Sam Koch’s future and then flubs one that leaves you thinking that a change (at punter) is not gonna come…Sam Cook pun intended.
* You leave the stadium thinking, “Pernell McPhee was the best player wearing purple tonight!”
* While at the stadium you look around and wonder, “They spent $35 million on this? Where did the other $34 million go?”