The Baltimore Ravens face the San Francisco 49ers later this evening in Baltimore, the last time these two teams met the stakes were remarkably higher. That was a different Baltimore team, two years later the Ravens are trying to get back to that Championship level of play. There’s only one preseason game in which the starters (on both offense and defense) get extensive work, the other three games are for those players trying to make the 53 man roster and carve out a role. It just so happens that the third preseason game this year happens to be against the Washington Redskins, but we’ll discuss that later. There are several position groups to keep an eye on tonight for Baltimore, that goes for both sides of the ball. Tonight’s game features a matchup of not only brothers (head coaches) but two of the deepest rosters in the entire league.
In terms of what groups to keep an eye on tonight as you watch the Ravens play the 49ers, we’ll start with receiver and tight end. The Ravens are set at the top of the both position groups. At tight end, there’s Dennis Pitta (Flacco Favorite) and veteran Owen Daniels. Behind them are two young players who should get many snaps during this year’s preseason: Crockett Gilmore and Phillip Supernaw. Both players are huge targets, standing at 6’6 and 6’5 respectively. Gilmore (a favorite of a colleague of mine, Turron Davenport) has very soft hands, and is a very good athlete for that size. It shouldn’t take long for him to impress both the staff and fans if he’s targeted a few times a game.
After the “Smiths” in Torrey and Steve, Baltimore’s receiver depth chart is far from defined. The rest of the group features a ton of size with one exception in Rookie Michael Campanero. Campanero is a great option in the slot , but he also has the skills to operate on the outside. One player that has been shining in camp and should continue to do so in these preseason games is Kamar Aiken. Definitely a name to get familiar with, he’s able to win on the outside, displays good hands and has great size to boot at 6’2, 215. There’s Marlon Brown who was on the team last year and rookie Jeremy Butler, Butler is a small school guy with good size and great feet. Look for Campanero, Butler, and Brown to stand out amongst the rest of the group of wideouts. There’s still LaQuan Williams and Deonte Thompson, but those youngsters may make a strong push.
On the defensive side of the ball for Baltimore, it’s all about inside linebacker and the secondary. With Daryl Smith working through something ( minor injury in Harbaugh speak), youngsters C.J. Mosley and Arthur Brown should get the opportunity to show what they can do. It’s believed by most that Mosley will be starting next to Smith come Week 1 of the regular season. Mosley and Brown will give the Ravens much needed range at the position.
The secondary should be fun to watch tonight, with Ladarius Webb and Jimmy Smith entrenched as the boundary corners, who’s going to win that battle to man the slot? Asa Jackson may be the favorite and the most ready to step in and contribute, after him there is Chykie Brown and Dominique Franks. Of the three, Jackson has impressed the most in camp. A couple of youngsters to watch at the position are Tramain Jacobs and Sammy Seamster, Seamster is a 6 foot, long armed DB. The safety position also features an interesting group of players, with Matt Elam firmly locked in as a starter, Darrien Stewart will probably start next to Elam in Week 1. The issue is that Baltimore drafted a young safety in Terrance Brooks and signed a troubled, but extremely talented player in Will Hill. Hill is going to be suspended for the first four games, but has stood out in camp. How long can Stewart hold off Brooks and Hill? Brooks and Hill should be paired together deep at times, the duo gives the Ravens physicality and range.
On the offensive side of the ball, it’s all about the Wideouts. Everyone knows what Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree(Not Playing Tonight) bring to the table, this is an opportunity for newly acquired Stevie Johnson and second year man Quinton Patton to get extra snaps. The 49ers have reportedly streamlined their playbook, to make it easier to get in and out of plays with time left on the play clock. The offense is also expected to become much more balanced, which means more passing. With Alex Boone still holding out, the offensive line should be watched tonight as well. Daniel Kilgore and rookie Marcus Martin are battling for the starting center job. Joe Looney will be stepping in for Boone and former Dolphin Jonathan Martin will be filling in for injured right tackle Anthony Davis.
Defensively, there are four players fighting for the role of Navorro Bowman’s replacement. Bowman is expected to be out until at least Week 6, Michael Wilhoite has filled in for Patrick Willis in the past, but isn’t the clear front runner to replace Bowman. Coordinator Vic Fangio has even said that it may take multiple players to fill in for Navorro, so keep an eye on the middle linebacker spots tonight. Names to watch: Moody, Boreland, Skov.
Youngsters Tank Carradine and Quentin Dial should get a significant amount of snaps in the preseason, they’ll be trying to show that they earn a spot in that defensive line rotation. In the secondary, it’s similar to the Ravens..it’s wide open at corner after Chris Culliver and Tramaine Brock. A lot of youngsters: Dontae Johnson, Jimmy Ward, Chris Cook, Kenneth Acker, and Daryl Morris. Also keep an eye on the backups at safety, some youngsters may push Dahl and Spillman.
Tonight is really just a display of depth between two of the deepest rosters in the league, while the “ones” will play sparingly, it’ll be interesting to see which offense has more success. Even when it gets to the second stringers,which team’s offensive line will hold up better against the other’s defensive line? It should be a fun game and a chance for fans of both teams to see how talented the youngsters are on each squad and which youngsters are ready to step in and contribute this year.