Preseason Week 1: What To Watch For

With the Ravens being so beat up at virtually every position thus far during training camp, it will be interesting to see just who plays in tomorrow night’s preseason battle against the Carolina Panthers. With several players fighting for playing time or just a spot on the practice squad, this initial game is a great opportunity for many players to step up and impress the coaching staff.

Being that this will be on national TV, let’s hope that our Ravens don’t get absolutely spanked.

Read on to see who Justin will be watching out for tomorrow and what he’ll be looking for as Billy Cundiff and Shayne Graham battle for the hotly-contended kicking spot.

Player Watch:

1. Mike McLaughlin (Fullback)- As I stated earlier in training camp, Mike McLaughlin is a hard-working, determined player. In all likelihood, Leron McClain will play in just the first quarter or possibly a quarter and a half. I expect McLaughlin to play the majority of the time at fullback, especially in the 2nd half when all the reserves and players fighting for roster spots tend to see action.

Not only would I look for McLaughlin at fullback for a significant amount of time, but also look for him on special teams both in the kicking game and return game, as the coaching staff would like to see his blocking abilities. Having said that, don’t look for boxscore-type numbers from McLaughlin, but look for McLaughlin playing the game “The Raven Way” with hard work, dedication, sweat, and playing every play like it’s the most important of the game.

2. Oniel Cousins (Offensive Tackle)- With uncertainty still surrounding Jared Gaither more than halfway through training camp, and with the continued speculation surrounding Gaither being in John Harbuagh’s “doghouse”, a golden opportunity has now been put in the lap of 3rd year offensive tackle Oniel Cousins.

If you remember last year, Cousins started at right tackle last year for the Ravens in a pivotal game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16. Cousins (who tends to have trouble with speedy end rushers such as Lamar Woodley) has been working hard this training camp on his technique, much of which has involved his speed and agility to correct the problems he had last season. Cousins may have an edge in tomorrow night’s battle against the Panthers’ pass rush unit. With the loss of stud sack artist Julius Peppers, the Panthers no longer have that speedy pass rushing threat. That being said, if Cousins can perform the way I expect him to tomorrow, he may just have the upper hand on Jared Gaither at the right tackle position with Gaither yet to prove himself in either training camp or actual game time.

3. Tom Zbikowski (Safety)- With Ed Reed still on the PUP list and showing no signs of returning anytime soon, I am very intrigued by the little (fun) rivalry growing between safeties Tom Zbikowski and veteran Ken Hamlin. Zbikowski has already demonstrated throughout training camp that he’s a physical force to be reckoned with and can do it all. While it’s not on an All-Pro level like Ed Reed, Zibby can stop the run, defend the pass and do good things in the return game.

On the other hand, Ken Hamlin has shown everyone at training camp, whether it be the fans, players or coaches, that he can hit with the best of them. Well, sadly, that’s pretty much all he’s shown to this point. Hamlin has been lacking in pass coverage as well as run assignments. Let’s hope this is nothing but rust. Look for Hamlin to stick to his reputation as a hard hitter if given the chance tomorrow night.If a Panthers receiver starts going across the middle of the field, look for Hamlin to light someone up, and take names and numbers. I’m very intrigued though to just see who will start tomorrow night at free safety. Although it’s just the first pre-season game, tomorrow’s starter may be our first early sign of who will be filling the gaping hole which will be left by Ed Reed’s absence.

Position Battle To Watch: Kicker

Many thought that with the signing of Shayne Graham, he would be the clear-cut favorite to win the starting kicking job. By no means has that been the case thus far, with Graham performing below expectations and Billy Cundiff re-entering the picture and asserting himself as a legitimate kicking threat.

With head coach John Harbaugh announcing that both Graham and Cundiff will alternate kicks in tomorrow night’s game, it is imperative that both kicker make each and every field goal when given the chance. Look for Graham to have the first shot for the Ravens followed by Cundiff, although both are still jockeying for position in tomorrow’s night game and the kicking order could prove fortunate for one and costly for the other. Let’s just hope both establish themselves, so that we won’t be stuck with a mediocre starter, whoever it turns out to be. We definitely don’t want a repeat of last season.

Topics: Billy Cundiff, Ravens Position Battles, Ravens Preseason, Ravens Preview, Ravens Vs Panthers, Ravens Vs Panthers ESPN, Ravens Vs Panthers Preview, Shayne Graham

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