The defending champion Baltimore Ravens will take the field in Baltimore on Thursday night against the Atlanta Falcons for the first home game of the preseason.
After a 44-16 victory in the preseason opener in Tampa Bay, the Ravens have made a few adjustments to hopefully better the team as they prepare for the season. Here are a few things to keep an eye on during the Ravens’ preseason game against Atlanta.
1. Brandon Stokley
The Baltimore Ravens signed wide receiver Brandon Stokley to a one-year contract on Saturday and he began practicing with the team on Monday. Stokley will be returning to the field in Baltimore to perform in front of the same fans that embraced him during his first four seasons in the NFL.
But the fans will not be the only ones paying attention to Stokley during the game. The competition for a wide receiver position has been underway for a few weeks now. Deonte Thompson and Tandon Doss have been battling it out for the spot as well. Thompson suffered a leg injury in last week’s game against Tampa Bay and Doss has not caught too many people’s attention so far. But with Stokley in the mix, look for things to get a little more competitive and a lot more interesting.
2. Ray Rice
Without a doubt, Ray Rice is one of the most reliable athletes on the Ravens’ offense. He can run. He can catch. He can block. Whatever the Ravens need Ray Rice to do, he will do it and he will do it well.
While the three-time Pro Bowl running back may not be out on the field too much during the preseason, keep an eye out for him whenever he does take the field. Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell has also been looking toward Rice to be a pass option, using Bernard Pierce as a running back and lining Rice up as a slot receiver. Look for the Ravens to run a few plays like this early in the game, giving Rice a few chances to catch the ball.
3. Visanthe Shiancoe
After an unfortunate performance in last week’s preseason game, Visanthe Shiancoe has had a few things to focus on before taking the field again on Thursday. The most obvious of those would be simply catching the ball. The tight end is eyeing up a starting position, but after dropping 40 percent of the balls thrown to him in last Thursday’s game, he could be fighting an uphill battle.
Veteran tight end Dallas Clark inked a one-year contract with the Ravens on Tuesday and could potentially give Shiancoe a run for his money. It is likely that Shiancoe will take the field with the first-team offense on Thursday night, but if he shows any indication of last week’s performance, Ravens fans could see Dallas Clark in the lead for the starting tight end position.
4. Special teams
Kicker Justin Tucker proved that he may be just as reliable this season for the Baltimore Ravens as he was last year. In the first preseason game, Tucker easily connected on three field goal attempts from 29, 43, and 57 yards, as well as driving every kickoff out of the back of the end zone, eliminating the Buccaneers’ chance for a kickoff return.
The special teams unit was one of head coach John Harbaugh’s most reliable components last season and things seem to be shaping up just as well this year. Keep a look out for the special teams on Thursday night, especially Justin Tucker. Tucker’s confidence on the field as a second-year kicker is what makes his performance virtually flawless on most occasions.
5. Matt Elam
A lot of pressure has been put on rookie Matt Elam since he signed with the Ravens. The first round draft pick out of the University of Florida has been somewhat of a disappointment so far in his performance. Many thought that Elam would claim the starting safety position after Ed Reed left for Houston, but after James Ihedigbo started last week in Tampa, it is looking as though Elam may not be the answer.
If Elam truly thinks he deserves to start at the safety position, it will show during his performance in Thursday night’s game. It will be interesting to see how the rookie performs when he knows that his chances to start could be in jeopardy.