Baltimore Ravens: 5 Players to Watch in Thursday's Preseason Opener
Last season's heartbreaking loss against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game has left a black cloud over the Ravens organization for several months. Highlights of Billy Cundiff's missed field goal in the final seconds have been televised countless times since January, making it hard for Baltimore to forget the loss.
But once kickoff time rolls around on Thursday night, the 2011 season will be in the past and the 2012 season will be underway.
With the 2012 season set to begin, it's time to take a look at five Ravens who are worth keeping an eye on against the Falcons.
5. Corey Graham
When the Ravens signed veteran cornerback Corey Graham in the offseason, the intention was for him to help on special teams. However, Graham, a former Pro Bowl special-teamer, has impressed at cornerback so far in camp.
Several Ravens beat reporters have noted Graham's instinctive ball skills at the cornerback position, and he may see more playing time on defense than originally expected.
It will be interesting to see if Graham's success at cornerback will translate to an actual game, which is why he is a must-watch Raven for Thursday's game.
4. Tommy Streeter
While the Ravens aren't very talented at the wide receiver position, the team has plenty of depth. This year's sixth-round pick, Tommy Streeter, has not blown anyone away so far in training camp, and is still considered a very raw prospect.
With a plethora of wide receivers vying for a spot on the team's final 53-man roster, it will be interesting to see if Streeter can begin to separate himself from the pack.
At this point, Streeter is a developmental prospect, but it would be a promising sign to see him contribute in Thursday's game against the Falcons, particularly in red-zone situations.
3. Bernard Pierce
When veteran Ricky Williams retired during the offseason, the Ravens were left with plenty of uncertainty at the running back position. The only running back on the roster besides Ray Rice was Anthony Allen, who struggled to find any playing time in 2011, his rookie season.
That prompted the Ravens to draft Bernard Pierce in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Pierce ran for 1,481 yards and 27 touchdowns for the Temple Owls in 2011, and is expected to earn the backup running back job for Baltimore.
He is currently listed as questionable for Thursday's game with a hamstring injury, so it is still unknown if he will suit up against Atlanta.
2. Justin Tucker
Ever since Billy Cundiff missed a chip-shot field goal that would have sent the 2011 AFC Championship game to overtime, he has been on the chopping block in Baltimore.
The missed field goal against New England was a culmination of a poor season for Cundiff. He connected on just 28 of 37 field goal attempts, which simply won't cut it for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
That led to the Ravens deciding to sign undrafted free agent kicker, Justin Tucker from the University of Texas.
Tucker has impressed so far during training camp, as he has consistently out-kicked Cundiff on a daily basis.
Tucker and Cundiff will likely split the kicking duties on Thursday, and it will be interesting to see if Tucker can separate himself from Cundiff.
1. Sergio Kindle
The main storyline that has surrounded the Baltimore Ravens for the past several months has been Terrell Suggs' Achilles injury. The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year is expected to be out until at least November, which means it's time for other linebackers to step up in his absence.
One linebacker whose time to shine is long-overdue is third-year outside linebacker Sergio Kindle. After being selected in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Kindle has struggled to even get on the field.
He played in just two games last season, failing to record a single tackle. With as much talent as Kindle has, it is time for him to assert himself as one of the top pass-rushers on the Ravens defense.
That process of becoming a top pass-rusher begins Thursday in Atlanta, as Kindle will have ample opportunities to showcase his talent.