Baltimore Ravens vs. Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Players to Watch
Whether it's a rookie attempting to establish himself as a household name, or a veteran seeking to reclaim a lost seat at the top, tonight's preseason matchup between the Ravens and Eagles has all the makings of an intriguing beginning to another eventful football season.
The Eagles have likely enjoyed the offseason most of all, landing star-studded free agents left and right—and at discounted price tags. Thursday will give us the first, but brief, glance at the self-proclaimed "dream team."
The Ravens did not make the free agency splash they did in 2010, but did not deviate from their norm, composed primarily of building through the draft. Many veteran playmakers departed in the past weeks, but now promising rookies will be called upon to step up and fill those voids.
Thursday's battle will be the first chance we have to watch these stories unfold. Here's a closer look at what players we watch tonight as the season's focus shifts from the front offices to the gridiron.
1) Bernard Pollard, Strong Safety, Baltimore Ravens
Often lost in the talk of losing contributors like Derrick Mason, Todd Heap and Willis McGahee is the discussion of how the Ravens will cope with the loss of Dawan Landry.
In the shadow of Ed Reed, Landry quietly provided the Ravens with superior results while defending the run in 2010. Just how much the city of Baltimore will miss him remains to be seen, but it will likely hinge upon Pollard's 2011 performance.
Pollard will mainly be seen in Thursday's game with the second-string defense and will have to fight Tom Zbikowski for the starting job. Expect to see him tested early and often by Andy Reid's quirky offense.
2) Riley Cooper, Wide Receiver, Philadelphia Eagles
If the last pass of a playoff game resulted in Tramon Williams snatching away the football, and ultimately the season right in front of your eyes, you can bet that a long offseason will follow.
Riley Cooper is the unfortunate viewer who had the exclusive front row seat to that picture taken last January. If anyone is excited to get back on the field, it's him.
Intrigue adds to his excitement in tonight's game, especially with reports that Jeremy Maclin is seeing a specialist for an undisclosed illness and may not be ready for the start of the season.
We know that Jason Avant would be the first to take over Maclin's spot on the depth chart, but what of Avant's previous spot? It won't be Steve Smith until at least midseason, depending on which team doctors you ask.
This is a rare opportunity for the young Cooper to shine amongst a crowded depth chart and show what he's got.
3) Sergio Kindle, Outside Linebacker, Baltimore Ravens
Despite sporting the full-on gameday garb in the picture next to this text, Kindle has yet to see action in an NFL game.
The Ravens' first draft pick of 2010 sat out the entire season after suffering a skull fracture at a friend's house in July of that year. This will be his first real taste of professional football outside of team practices.
Tonight's performance could give early indications of whether or not the Ravens did in fact get an ideal pass-rusher to complement Terrell Suggs.
4) Vince Young, Quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles
And here I am, thinking Riley Cooper had a long offseason. Vince Young's was undoubtedly longer.
Young's 2010 season ended in Week 11 after a meltdown and falling out with then-head coach, Jeff Fisher. This incident, alongside a history of depression, left teams hesitant to give the talented but troubled signal-caller another chance, despite having such a high ceiling.
The question is, can he reach it?
Tonight is Young's first chance to prove whether or not he can. Michael Vick came a long way to reclaim his star status, but will not see many snaps this evening. Young will hope to embark on a redemption journey of his own tonight, and will play as if he has everything to prove.
For his sake.
5) Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens
With the aforementioned departure of contributors in the receiving game, a hulking weight has been placed on Torrey Smith, along with his young counterparts Tandon Doss, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.
The pickings for wide receivers in the free agent pool have been cleaned out, and it's likely that the rookie from Maryland will be starting opposite Anquan Boldin against Pittsburgh in Week 1.
How much playing time he will have on Thursday remains to be seen, but like all rookies, he will have to make his presence known. Unfortunately, that presence will be harder to establish, given that he is attempting to fill the shoes of the franchise's all-time leader in receiving yards and receptions.
It's an uphill battle, but it begins now.