The Ravens will limp into Foxvboro, Massachusetts to begin their 2008 pre-season schedule against the only undefeated regular season team to ever go 16-0. The Patriots, of course, did not win the ultimate prize, as they were upset by the NY Giants (whom I took on the Money Line, thank you very much) in the Super Bowl only six months ago.
However, this game is not for keeps, unless you are a rookie or journeyman playing for a roster spot. The veterans just want to get some reps in and stay healthy, while the others want to dress to impress the coaches with their play. These players will earn their roster spot based on their pre-season play, while the others are just going through the motions. Unfortunately, some of the Ravens players who need the reps will be standing on the sidelines in street clothes, watching the game due to training camp injuries they received over the past couple of weeks.
The offensive line, which was a problem in 2007 and is totally revamped for 2008, has been hit the hardest by the injury bug so far in camp. Both starting tackles will not reach the field on Thursday night. At least one wideout is out (Detmetrius Williams), our starting RB (McGahee) is having fluid drained from his knee and the team won't risk further injury. Of course, that benefits rookie Ray Rice, who has easily been the most impressive offensive rookie in camp and will get the starting nod.
On defense, there still has been no signs of Terrell Suggs in or around camp, holding out from signing his Franchise Tag until the last possible minute. Don't expect him in camp until the third or fourth pre-season game, if then. Chris McAlister is a little banged up and Samari Rolle just returned to camp from mourning the sudden death of his dad. Ed Reed is battling a sore shoulder, which has opened the door for rookie safety, Haruki Nakamura. On the defensive side of the ball, Nakamura has impressed the coaches the most with his nose for the ball and quick reactions to coverage. 'Ruki will definitely get his share of playing time this Thursday night against the Patriots. How much he faces All-World Tom Brady remains to be seen, as Brady sort of doesn't need too much pre-season time to get into shape. I'm sure his girlfriend, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, keeps him in just fine shape off the field, thank you very much!
It should be interesting to see which QB gets the starting nod for Thursday. Being the first pre-season game, you should not read anything into this decision, as it will just be coach Harbaugh's best guess as to who has had the best camp so far, which by no means has decided the race to open the season. I see it as either Troy Smith or Kyle Boller starting the game and between the two of them, they should play into the third quarter. From that point on, look for the rookie, Joe Flacco, to guide the team the rest of the way. This gives him more reps, but with less pressure as he should be running against the opponents' 3rd and 4th stringers for his first competition. Harbaugh will then ease him into the next few games earlier in the contests to see what he can do against the higher levels of competition. In the meantime, either Boller or Smith will separate themself from the other and end up with the starting nod on opening day, with the other in the unenvious backup position until Flacco is deemed ready. Further down the line into the regular season, the starter's performance will determine at what point Harbaugh grows weary with our lack of offensive success and inserts Flacco into what should hopefully be his spot for the next ten years.
It all begins Thursday night.