Baltimore Ravens: What to Watch for in Preseason Game Action
There is more excitement in the air than usual for the Baltimore Ravens’ first preseason game. For starters, it presents a rematch of Super Bowl XLVII as the San Francisco 49ers come to town. More importantly, it’s a rematch of the “Harbaugh Bowl” (or Har-Bowl), and the brothers will get up close and personal as the teams practice together after the game.
But most of the enthusiasm is centered on the football itself. The preseason will be more important for this Baltimore team than it was in the past. The Ravens are undergoing a number of major changes, and the exhibition games will be the first indicator of how successful those changes actually were.
It will be our first look at Gary Kubiak’s new offense—albeit an extremely watered down and vanilla look. The offensive line will be on the field against real competition for the first time, and its cohesion will be put to the test against a physical Niners front seven.
The live game action will also be instrumental in deciding position battles, as fringe receivers and third-string corners battle for their roster spots.
Nobody would blame you for turning on the TV just to see the Ravens playing football again, but these are a few aspects of the game that will be important to monitor.
How Do the Rookies Look?
The class of 2014 will don the Ravens jersey against an opponent for the first time, and it will be fascinating to see how the rookies play. Playing time tends to be very limited for the starters, but even the rookies who are expected to play major roles could get a somewhat extended run to get their feet wet.
C.J. Mosley has been wowing everyone throughout the offseason—so much so that Terrell Suggs compared him to a young Patrick Willis, according to Pat Kirwan of CBSSports. We’ll get to see Mosley on the same field as Willis for an early look at whether those comparisons are accurate.
For Timmy Jernigan, the game will provide an opportunity to build off his impressive camp play and go up against a very formidable offensive line.
It will be special to see the rookies for the first time, but their play will be very important as an indicator of who is making the NFL transition well and who is lagging behind.
Can We Glean Anything from the Offense?
Preseason offenses are always very limited versions of the full playbook, so we won’t be able to make any sweeping judgments about the offense and Gary Kubiak’s scheme. Nevertheless, there are some things that will be worth watching whenever the offense is on the field.
For the series or two that the starters are running the show, all eyes will be on Joe Flacco to evaluate his command of the offense. But those eyes should be on all the major contributors and how comfortable they look with the play calls and any audibles that may be called.
The game will also be an opportunity to see how the offensive line holds up and to evaluate the depth on the offense—particularly along the O-line and in the receiving corps.
There will still be plenty of questions about the offense, but the smaller things can be quite revealing about how the Ravens are adjusting to the new scheme.
How Does Rick Wagner Play?
The O-line as a whole needs to improve, but Rick Wagner exceeded the relatively low expectations we had for him at the end of the 2013 season to nab the starting right tackle spot.
There are questions about Kelechi Osemele’s health and how good Jeremy Zuttah really is as a center, but Wagner is the ultimate question mark on the line. We haven’t seen him on the field enough, and we have no idea what to expect.
He’s been tested by Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil all summer, but the intensity will be cranked up a notch on a bigger stage.
You’re only as good as your weakest link, and Wagner projects to be the weakest link for the O-line. His performance will have consequences for the unit as a whole , so he is a key player to watch in the exhibition.
How Good Are the Young Receivers?
Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak heaped praise on the receiving corps, calling this the best position battle he’s ever seen. Those words will be put to the test over the course of the preseason.
The preseason play of Torrey Smith, Steve Smith Sr. and Jacoby Jones (and Marlon Brown to some degree) will be important, but we know what they’ll provide for the most part. After them, it’s wildly unpredictable.
Baltimore was counting on Deonte Thompson and LaQuan Williams last year, but they didn’t deliver. This season, they are once again in the mix, but there is a new crop of emerging receivers stealing the headlines.
Kamar Aiken has been the star of camp, but he’ll need a strong preseason to earn a roster spot. Rookie Michael Campanaro is the most unique receiver on the roster, but he’s still somewhat raw. Jeremy Butler and Jace Davis are both undrafted free agents who have made the most of their opportunities in camp, and they’ll look to continue that trend in the exhibitions.
Neither of these players is likely to move the needle for the team this season, but their long-term development would be huge for the Ravens moving forward.
Which CB Plays the Best?
With Lardarius Webb sitting out, there will be plenty of snaps to go around for the other cornerbacks. This is a good thing for the coaching staff since it needs as much information as possible for making cuts and creating the depth chart.
None of the backup cornerbacks has been consistently good, and Asa Jackson has been the best of the bunch by all accounts.
Regardless, impressive practices don’t mean a whole lot if you can’t put it together on the field, and the cornerback race is still very much wide open.
Every candidate will get plenty of opportunities to prove his worth. Hopefully, at least one of them separates himself, but it may turn out the Ravens learn they need to bring in another free agent.
Whatever happens, the cornerbacks are playing for their jobs, so the added drama definitely merits your attention.
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