Preseason game number one is all about getting your feet wet. Whether it is a rookie or a veteran, game one is about getting acclimated, or re-acclimated, to NFL game conditions. You can expect jitters, communication issues, and even some confusion as 90 players are on the sideline versus the normal 46. We saw a bit of each last week.
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.
Here are the plotlines for Ravens’ second preseason game.
Young Wide Receivers
We can consider the first preseason game a mulligan. With the starters expected to push into the second quarter, it would be great if someone took a step to the front of the class. Deonte Thompson is not expected to play, so this leaves the door wide open for Tandon Doss. He has the reputation of having solid hands. Unfortunately, they appear to only show themselves during practice. This is his golden opportunity. How much time will he see with the starters, and will he seize the moment? I am guessing he gets significant time, but he needs to bring a level of toughness that we haven’t yet seen.
If LaQuan Williams follows up his stellar first game with another solid game, he will thrust his name into the slot receiver conversation, if he hasn’t already. He appears to be savvy and have moxie, not fearing the middle of the field. I look forward to watching his encore performance.
Will the lesser names take a step forward? Aaron Mellette had a bit of a roller coaster week last week, but he bounced back in the end. How will that translate to his second game? Marlon Brown, receiving tight end Matt Furstenburg, and H-back Kyle Juszczyk all had nice starts. How will they handle their moderate level of success?
Will we get a glimpse of the grey beards, Brandon Stokley and Dallas Clark? Obviously, they need to build a rapport with quarterback Joe Flacco; however, they may need more time to get acclimated to the nuances of this offense. I haven’t heard the latest, but they may make a cameo.
Jacoby Jones also belongs in this section. He is someone who needs to perform more consistently tonight than he has to this point; although, I have major reservations if that will happen tonight, or ever. I sadly refer to him as Shankosaurus as he continually allows balls to clang off his hands (or actual helmet) on slants and simple outs. His main role needs to remain as a spot vertical threat and a return specialist. Is that worth his salary, or will he suddenly become reliable? Sarcasm intended…
Has the Defense Sorted Out the Communication Issues?
You would like to see this aspect of the game tighten up in game two of the preseason. The Ravens are running many different personnel combinations, and it is well documented that they have added many newcomers on defense. Miscommunication is almost expected in the beginning, but now is the time for the defense to settle down and solidify. The biggest area of need is for the linebackers and secondary to be in better sync. They need to have a stronger grasp of the zone concepts so there are no players streaking wide open like last week. In addition, blitz packages need to be better coordinated between the line and secondary (i.e. who is responsible for what gap), especially when blitzers are coming from the secondary positions.
The Big 3
The Ravens first three draft picks, Matt Elam, Arthur Brown, and Brandon Williams were expected to snare starting positions. With the free agent acquisitions on the defensive line, Williams was admittedly a long shot to start. He figured to supplant Terrence Cody in the line rotation. Cody has started to respond to the competition from Williams, but I expect Williams to capture the lion’s share of snaps in the line rotation in the near future.
Elam and Brown were the two rookies many predicted would be starters from the beginning. However, Elam has faced competition from James Ihedigbo and Brown has seen stiff competition from Daryl Smith (a classic Ozzie free-agent pick-up) and Josh Bynes. I believe both Elam and Brown will see ample playing time once the regular season begins. The Ravens will run quite a few three-safety packages, which will put Elam on the field. Elam and Michael Huff are best suited for the starting safety positions because they allow flexibility. Neither needs to be defined as a strong or free safety—they both can play either position. Brown will be a cover linebacker in obvious passing downs, but he may be ready by mid-season to overtake Bynes.
Will any of the three draft picks play well enough tonight to warrant a starting position?
Will Roster Battles and Bubble Players Become Clear?
The first round of cuts is coming, so this is the time for players to make their case that they deserve consideration to be on the 53-man roster. The final roster is muddied now that more veterans have been signed, taking precious spots away from the younger players. Who will stand out in this game? Adrian Hamilton, DeAngelo Tyson, Omar Brown, Jack Cornell (you all know I can’t write a piece without mentioning him), Will Pericak, Nigel Carr, Bryan Hall, Moe Lee, Aaron Mellette, Marlon Brown, and Matt Furstenburg are battling for roster or practice squad spots. Veterans such as Visanthe Shiancoe, Billy Bajema, Chris Johnson, and Ramon Harewood are not guaranteed anything at this point. It is a very good problem to have when quality or intriguing developmental players are in danger of not making the team.
I will post my first crack at the 53-man roster next week. Enjoy the game!