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It felt like Baltimore first hit the training camp field yesterday, but time flies, and we are already halfway through the preseason. The Ravens will play in the first of two away games of the 2019 preseason Thursday night. The Ravens traveled to Philadelphia earlier in the week to participate in joint practices with the Eagles, and the two teams will face off in Thursday night’s game, which kicks off at 7:30 PM.

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.

Cyrus Jones

The celebration could only last for so long after the Ravens beat the Green Bay Packers last Thursday night. John Harbaugh had no choice but to put a damper on the mood, as he announced that Tavon Young suffered a serious, but not life or career-threatening, neck injury earlier in the week. The prognosis: a potentially missed season. With one of the NFL’s best young slot cornerbacks out for the foreseeable future, the Ravens need to turn to someone else. That someone else will be Cyrus Jones if he can prove himself worthy of the nod. Jones, the return specialist, has impressed in the first two preseason games at cornerback but will need to lock down his new role on the Ravens defense with a continuation of his contributions in the final two games.

Solid performance threshold: 3 tackles, 1 pass deflection, no passes let up.

Patrick Ricard

Patrick Ricard, once on the roster bubble, is now firmly secured as a roster lock. Why? Because of his excellent play at both fullback and defensive tackle. “Project Pat” has taken great strides in year three and is developing into a player the Ravens feel can contribute on both sides of the ball. For Ricard, the preseason is no longer about earning a roster spot. It is about earning a larger role. Ricard is already the team’s primary fullback but has a chance to become a feature rotational piece on the defensive line, used to relieve Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce. In order to achieve this, Ricard must continue to dominate on the gridiron.

Solid performance threshold: 1 tackle for loss, 1 crucial block at fullback.

Anthony Averett

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Everyone knows the story of one man with two wildly different and conflicting natures. Although his case is not so extreme, Anthony Averett has experienced the syndrome in the 2019 preseason. At some moments, he looks ready to take over as a starting defensive back. In others, he looks baffled by the opposing offense. Tavon Young’s injury presents Averett with an opportunity to expand his role in a crowded secondary. Averett could be given nickel responsibilities if he beats out Cyrus Jones. To obtain the expanded role, however, he must first stray away from his inconsistencies.

Solid performance threshold: 3 tackles, 1 pass deflection, no passes let up.

Left Guard Battle

Another week has gone by, and the battle at left guard is still undecided. The latest wrench to be thrown in came on Monday’s practice. The favorite to win the spot, Jermaine Eluemunor, exited early on a cart – not good news to say the least. Eluemunor is officially listed as questionable for Thursday night’s game, but realistically speaking, he is not likely to play. In his place will be the former starter, James Hurst, and 2019 fourth-round pick Ben Powers. These two players now have an opportunity to challenge Eluemunor’s claim to inherit the throne, but each will need to outplay the other.

Justice Hill vs Kenneth Dixon

Is it possible the Ravens keep four running backs? If you asked me this question two weeks ago, I would have said “no” without thinking twice. But now, it’s time to reevaluate. The Ravens are likely to keep at least two players on the roster that fill multiple positions: Cyrus Jones and Patrick Ricard. If two players take four depth chart positions, the Ravens will have extra space on the roster and could fill that extra space with an extra running back. While the possibility of this happening appears stronger by the day, neither Justice Hill nor Kenneth Dixon can take comfort in it. The two are locked in a battle for the third running back spot, and frankly, Kenneth Dixon is being outplayed. The war is far from over, but Hill has already won the first battle.

Inside Linebacker Competition

Just like the battle at left guard, the battle at inside linebacker took an unsuspecting turn. Last week, Baltimore lost the presumptive starter next to Patrick Onwuasor, Chris Board, to a concussion. Board is likely to miss the rest of the preseason, and the Ravens signed Donald Payne finish the preseason for him. This leaves perhaps the most important question remaining in Baltimore unanswered, and the quest to find the right inside linebacker pair will extend. If Kenny Young has a solid preseason performance, he will quickly emerge as the front runner, but Alvin Jones is also in the mix. Chris Board could even retain his spot but he would need to either return quickly or see his counterparts shrink in the limelight. Thursday night’s preseason game will be a critical point in the positional battle.

Prediction: Ravens defeat the Eagles 39-3

With the Eagles’ stuck in quarterback limbo, and the Ravens proving deep on both offense and defense, Baltimore will have no problem leaving Lincoln Financial Field with a victory.

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