However, game two takes on a new level of urgency. Starters take games two and three more seriously (though not that seriously), and younger players are beginning to run out of time to make an impression on the decision makers. In addition, games two and three are when position battles start to become a little clearer.
With a relatively controversy-free set of practices with the Philadelphia Eagles this week, the Ravens get to see the Eagles’ up-tempo brand of football in a new setting. The Ravens will also face an actual starting caliber NFL quarterback in Sam Bradford. My Eagles’ friends are nervously hoping he survives without tearing another ACL.
Here is what I will be watching for tonight during the Ravens’ week two of preseason football.
The starting offensive line will be without Kelechi Osemele and Rick Wagner. It remains to be seen if John Urschel, a top interior linemen, and Jah Reid, who has been out of practice the last couple of days will play tonight. The starting line, from left to right, will most likely be: Eugene Monroe, Ryan Jensen, Jeremy Zuttah, Marshal Yanda, and James Hurst.
This is not an excuse if the offense struggles tonight. But let’s also not panic if the Ravens stall on some drives. All in all, this will be a much better test for the offense against a stout Eagles defense that is aggressive and in attack mode.
Three Back-up Position Battles of Note
Last week, with Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb sidelined, the Ravens starting cornerbacks were Kyle Arrington, Quinton Pointer, and Rashaan Melvin. Pointer was a surprise start and he struggled a bit against the Saints. With Webb most likely continued to be sidelined, Melvin has a chance to make more hay and push Webb for his starting position. I think this outcome is not out of the question.
Another player who is falling down the depth chart is Asa Jackson. Pointer, Cassius Vaughn (teammates have taken to him), and Tray Walker have another chance to show what they can do. Against the Saints, Walker ranked third on the defense in defensive snaps, logging 45 of 69 snaps. He is definitely getting opportunities to get his feet wet, especially in light that he is jumping from Texas Southern to the NFL. Which of these players will get an opportunity to line up with the starters? If that does happen, the coaches may be tipping their hand to the actual depth chart that is seen behind closed doors.
The starting safeties are set, Will Hill and Kendrick Lewis. Anthony Levine’s roster spot is probably safe because of his special teams play. Now that Terrence Brooks has been cleared from the PUP list, he has a chance to knock some rust off his play, if he is cleared to dress and play tonight. Two players who are battling for the last safety spot are Brynden Trawick and Nick Perry, the undrafted free agent. Perry is certainly a long-shot to make the team, but it would interesting to see if he sees any valuable time other than deep in the third and fourth quarters.
3) Wide Receivers
In my estimation, these are the receivers who are a lock to make the final team: Steve Smith, Kamar Aiken, Breshad Perriman, and Michael Campanaro. There is an obvious name missing on that list—Marlon Brown.
Brown has missed a lot of training camp, though not as much as Perriman, with nagging injuries. His overall play has been wildly inconsistent since his breakout rookie campaign. Could what we have recently seen from Brown be who he actually is? Could his sensational rookie year have been the outlier of to his career? Injuries and inconsistent play were the same things that stunted his promising career at the University of Georgia. According to Rivals.com, Brown was the fifth best receiver in the 2009 recruiting class. He was a five-star recruit that barely made waves in college.
I believe that Darren Waller has played his way into being a roster lock. I think the true competition for the final two receiving spots are Brown, Jeremy Butler, Tom Nelson, and DeAndre Carter. I agree with ESPN’s Jamison Hensley that Nelson is making a strong case and forcing himself into the discussion to make this team. He has the chance to be this year’s offensive version of Zachary Orr—a player who comes out of nowhere to make the final roster.
What I love about Nelson, and this stuck out to me on day one of training camp and in last week’s preseason game, is that he is a very shifty receiver. Campanaro always gets compared to Wes Welker and Julian Edelman, but Campanaro glides and is smoother in and out of breaks. Welker and Edelman have those choppy steps and swivel-ly hips. That’s who Nelson looks like. This makes sense since he is a converted safety. Nelson is bringing his technique—swiveled hips, choppy steps, balance, and leverage—from that side of the ball to his receiving play. (This is a great breakdown of cornerback technique.)
I am not saying Nelson is the next Welker (in his prime) or the next Edelman. I am not even saying he will make the team. But, I will be watching to see when Nelson enters the game, who he is lining up with, and how he plays.