The NFL preseason is already upon us -- the days have been flying by since the lockout ended, haven’t they? -- and the Ravens’ exhibition opener against the Eagles is one of a handful of games on Thursday night’s slate.
If it was the regular season, this would be a game that fans across the country would tune in to watch, with John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco returning to Philadelphia and the Eagles unveiling a new-look roster that includes Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and other talented additions with easier names to spell.
But this is a friendly in fútbol vernacular, so we’ll be focusing solely on the hometown team in this one. Here are five storylines to watch as the Ravens travel to Lincoln Financial Field to take on the Eagles.
1. Are the young receivers ready? The Ravens released the top two pass-catchers in franchise history in wideout Derrick Mason and tight end Todd Heap, and they opted to let reserve wide receivers Donte’ Stallworth and T.J. Houshmandzadeh walk. For now, the Ravens are embracing a youth movement with rookie receivers Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss and second-year tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. They won’t feel the urge to let go of that youth movement if those guys play well in the preseason.
2. The return of Sergio Kindle. The pass-rushing linebacker out of Texas will finally represent the Ravens in a game after missing his rookie year with a fractured skull. This game probably means more to Kindle than it does to any other player, but you can bet the Ravens are pretty excited to see him out there, too.
3. An offensive line in flux. The Ravens prioritized the running game this offseason, and they acted fast to re-sign offensive guard Marshal Yanda before adding Vonta Leach and Ricky Williams to the backfield. But two spots on the offensive line -- center and right tackle -- are big question marks for the Ravens as they try to get back to the playoffs in 2011. Matt Birk is out for the rest of the preseason, and there isn’t a viable replacement on the roster. Oniel Cousins and rookie Jah Reid are in the mix at right tackle.
4. Keep an eye on Ray Lewis. He might only play a series or two, but pay some attention to the 36-year-old to see how he is moving around out there. Lewis looked sluggish when I saw him at training camp -- some of my peers said the same thing, too -- and you can’t help but wonder if this will be the year he inevitably falls off.
5. Of course we’ll watch the QBs. Joe Flacco isn’t a kid anymore, but he is continuing to grow as a player and as a leader. We’ll get our first glimpse at his progress in the first quarter. Sixth-round pick Tyrod Taylor will be one to watch as the Ravens try to determine if the rookie is capable of being Flacco’s primary backup this season. He will play at least two quarters against the Eagles, eventually giving way to Hunter Cantwell. No one would blame you for switching over to “Jersey Shore” or whatever you usually watch on Thursday nights when that happens.