The 2014 NFL preseason is almost upon us, and for the Baltimore Ravens, it will be a four-game audition for many players who, by the start of the season, may be on the outside looking in when it comes to either a roster spot or significant playing time.
During last year’s preseason, Marlon Brown’s gave quite the performance. The then-rookie undrafted free agent was second in preseason snaps for Ravens offensive players, stepping up during the extended playing time with 10 catches and two touchdowns.
Training camp is where players put themselves on the map, but preseason performances are often make-or-break opportunities for many.
Starting with Thursday’s opener against the San Francisco 49ers, the Ravens will have four games to settle several unanswered questions about roster spots and roles on the team.
Many players will have to prove themselves during the four-game slate this month to offer clarity heading into the regular season.
Sooner or later, Brooks will be the starting free safety for the Ravens. However, the starting free safety job won’t come without competition, as Brooks has begun camp behind veteran free agent addition Darian Stewart on the depth chart.
Being lower on the depth chart might not mean too much yet (Matt Elam entered the regular season as a backup last season before being a full-time player for 15 games), though it does force Brooks to outplay the man that occupies his current spot in the starting defensive lineup.
Brooks is a much more talented player than Stewart with more coverage ability, but for rookie safeties, the mental aspect is the biggest adjustment. The rookie has had several different roles so far in the defense, and his versatility will be welcomed when/if he does eventually take on a large role for the defense this season.
In the preseason, Brooks’ physical ability is important, but what will matter most is how much of a responsibility he takes on managing the back end of the defense and proving he can be depended on early in his career.
Having an experienced and talented starting free safety in Will Hill joining the team in Week 7 makes Brooks’ room for error in the preseason even smaller.
Penciled in as the backup to Joe Flacco sometime soon in his NFL career, by all accounts, Wenning – a sixth-round pick out of Ball State – has done little to assert himself in his competition with Tyrod Taylor.
Keeping two quarterbacks is a much more desirable route for any team, since it opens up room for depth at positions that actually need it, but if Wenning can’t prove himself by the end of the month, the Ravens may be forced to carry three quarterbacks until he can prove that he’s a reliable option behind Flacco.
An experienced signal caller with 47 college starts to his name, Wenning may look more consistent as a passer in an actual game setting in preseason than he has in practice. If unable to undergo a quick learning curve in the coming weeks, the Ravens will have a tough decision to make at quarterback: keep both Wenning and Taylor or roll with Wenning as the lone backup.
Through three NFL seasons, Reid has been a bust, plain and simple. As a third-round pick in 2011, Reid was expected to be a starter for the team either at tackle at guard but has struggled for playing time.
That falls on both Reid’s inability to live up to his physical capability, and the Ravens for using such a high draft pick on a player who turned out to be, well, not very good.
On an offensive line that has a fair amount of interior depth – including rookie John Urschel and second-year lineman Ryan Jensen – tackle may be where Reid needs to prove himself to make the team.
So far, the right tackle job has been Rick Wagner’s to lose, and he has done nothing in camp to suggest he shouldn’t be the starter. In the preseason, Reid’s main competition will likely be undrafted rookie James Hurst.
An experienced tackle with intriguing developmental qualities, the Ravens could find it more beneficial long term to keep Hurst on the team and simply move on from Reid.
One backup tackle may be all the Ravens keep on the final roster, leaving Reid or Hurst as the odd man out. Can Reid use the preseason to revive his career and win the backup tackle job?
Chykie Brown/Asa Jackson
Both make the list because as contenders for the third cornerback job, odds are one (or maybe both) will prove to be an unreliable option when it comes to finding a nickel cornerback.
The process of replacing Corey Graham has not progressed as we’re now into August, partially because of Aaron Ross’ season-ending injury, which set back the team’s pursuit of finding a capable nickel defender while also possessing depth at cornerback.
Unless veteran addition Dominique Franks or a player not currently on the roster proves himself worthy of playing time, defensive coordinator Dean Pees will be forced to send out either Brown or Jackson in nickel situations.
Brown, the more experienced defender of the two, entered training camp with the leg up in the competition against Jackson, but began the season with some struggles, opening the door for Jackson to step up his pursuit for an expanded role.
The preseason may be more important for Jackson, who has very little NFL experience in the regular season. Lack of depth and a lingering back injury to Lardarius Webb should give Jackson and Brown coverage opportunities against first and second-teamers in live action.
Can either step up and win the job or will the Ravens be forced to look elsewhere for a dependable third corner? Let us know what you think!
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