The long and tortuous wait is finally over. Baltimore Ravens Football is back! Well, sort of. The Baltimore Ravens’ season does not officially start until September, but the preseason starts on Thursday night. Many fans tune the preseason out because, in their eyes, meaningful football isn’t being played. In reality, however, this could not be farther from the truth. The preseason is meaningful, nay, critical to the nearly 40 players on each team sitting on the roster bubble. For them, the preseason is a do or die time, when their careers could be either propelled or killed.
The Ravens have many of these players on the 90-man roster, and the preseason is their only real chance to audition for the final 53-man roster and the practice squad. The preseason also gives rookies the chance to show their potential for the future, and possibly claim a spot on the starting roster.
The Ravens will kick off the preseason on Thursday, August 8, at 7:30 PM in a home game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. If you are familiar with the Preview & Predictions series, you will know that it always includes the keys to the game and a score prediction. For the preseason rendition of the series, no keys to the game will be given, but key players and positional battles to watch will be.
Here are the 4 players that need a good performance, and two positional battles to watch in the first preseason game this Thursday:
Miles Boykin has been turning heads all training camp long, but the hype needs to be grounded in reality. Too many times Baltimore will find a training camp hero, only to have them flop in the preseason and regular season. Baltimore’s history alone at the wide receiver position might make some wary about the future around Boykin. Boykin needs to show that his training camp highlight reel is not limited to training camp practice, and that must start in week one against the Jaguars.
Solid performance threshold: 2 catches for 25 yards.
It’s hard not to feel bad for Trace McSorely. he was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens with the intention of playing him all over the field, in a role similar to that of Taysom Hill. While McSorely was always seen by Baltimore as a quarterback first, he is now being thrust into the position where he needs to step up and become a high-level passer in the National Football League immediately. This is because the Ravens lost backup quarterback Robert Griffin III to a fracture in his thumb, and Griffin could miss the majority of the preseason. McSorely will need to have a solid performance in the first preseason game to show the coaches that he can perform whenever he is called upon, in whatever situation.
Solid performance threshold: 5/10 (50%) completion, 50 yards passing.
Kenneth Dixon is on the verge of being cut. The young running back is talented, but the Ravens are not confident that Dixon can stay on the field for the entire year. In fact, there has not been a year since Dixon was drafted that he remained healthy for the duration of the year. Dixon is threatened by Justice Hill, the fourth-round rookie out of Oklahoma State. Hill, a speed back, looks to take Dixon’s role in an offense that will attempt to bring the NFL back to the three-yards and a cloud of dust days. Dixon will need to show durability throughout the game, and make enough plays on the ground to keep his name in the roster-building conversation.
Solid performance threshold: 8 rushes, 40 yards, 0 injuries.
Baltimore took a big hit when the team lost star inside linebacker this spring, as C.J. Mosley left in free agency to the New York Jets. While most assumed that Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young would replace Mosley, a dark horse contender emerged from the shadows. Chris Board is making a push to claim one of two starting slots in the middle of the defense. Board needs to prove that he is worthy of the nod.
Solid performance threshold: 4 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, no missed tackles, no dropped balls.
Left Guard Battle
Baltimore spiced up the battle for the left guard position last week, as the team traded a former starter, Alex Lewis, to the New York Jets. After the move, Baltimore has just three viable candidates in the race: Ben Powers, James Hurst, and Jermaine Eluemunor. Ben Powers was drafted to take over as a starter at guard, but it is not clear if the Ravens believed that he would do so in his first year. If Baltimore feels he is not ready, the team can defer to James Hurst. Hurst is a former starter at left guard and signed a surprisingly lucrative deal just last year. Hurst’s financial status might make Baltimore’s front office more open to keeping him as the starter. Jermaine Eluemunor cannot be discounted, however. The young offensive lineman struggled in his first two years as a Raven but had an impressive offseason so far.
Whoever shows the best in week one will have an immediate head start in the race for the starting position.
Edge Rusher Battle
The edge rusher corps is filled with players locked in a battle to make the roster. Only two edge rushers can be considered locks to make the roster so far: Matthew Judon and third-round rookie, Jaylon Ferguson. Pernell McPhee, Shane Ray, Tyus Bowser, and Tim Williams will fight for the remaining spots. Although all are competing, in reality, Bowser and Williams hold all the cards. The Ravens will only cut the either of the 2017 draft picks if it is if either demonstrates he is still not ready to contribute to the Ravens defense. If that happens, either Shane Ray or Pernell McPhee would be sure to make the roster. It is probable that at least one of the two veterans makes the roster if both Bowser and Williams do, but the Ravens moving on from one of the two youngsters would almost guarantee both to make it.
This battle will rage on throughout the preseason, but week one will serve as the critical first step.
Prediction: Ravens lose 28-13 to the Jaguars.
Trace McSorely and Joe Callahan will struggle to effectively throw the ball, but the ground game will keep Baltimore in business throughout. However, Baltimore’s defense will prove thin, and the Jacksonville offense will slice through the air and punish the Ravens defense on the ground. If this prediction comes true, the Baltimore Ravens will lose their first preseason battle since 2015.