Ravens vs. Falcons: What To Look Forward To

Here are five things to watch for tonight when the Ravens and Falcons square off in a preseason contest. - Kevin C. Cox

Here are five items to look for when watching tonight's Ravens-Falcons preseason game.

The second week of the preseason puts us closer to a good understanding of where a team is during the preseason.

The Ravens' starters should play most of the first half, though there won't be any gameplanning involved. That doesn't usually take place until the third week of the preseason and even that's done at a minimum.

However, this is when players begin establishing themselves. We all got a decent look at the Ravens a week ago, even though the first-team offense was relieved of their duties shortly into the second quarter.

This game will allow the Ravens to continue working on various nuances, while showing which players are proving their value. Here are five items to look forward to when watching the game tonight:

1) Can Visanthe Shiancoe prove he's a reliable tight end?

Shiancoe

(PHOTO: Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports)

Visanthe Shiancoe is in a gray area right now. Brandon Stokley's a proven slot receiver, though past his prime. The Ravens already have a blocking tight end in Billy Bajema that they think highly of. The Ravens went out and grabbed Dallas Clark on Sunday, since the coaching staff doesn't feel there are enough tight ends on the roster at this time with Dennis Pitta out indefinitely with a dislocated and fractured hip, and with Ed Dickson nursing a hamstring injury.

Shiancoe was Baltimore's starting tight end a week ago and continued to see time when Tyrod Taylor came into the game. He did have a couple of drops but finished with three catches for 27 yards. With Clark not expected to play Thursday night, this could wind up as an audition for Shiancoe to prove he belongs on the roster. With Clark and offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell's familiarity with each other, you'd have to assume the former Colts tight end is assured of a spot.

Shiancoe said he's been able to gain better chemistry with quarterback Joe Flacco over the last couple of weeks. The veteran tight end has done a good job running underneath routes, ideal for big tight ends that are used in check-down situations.

Shiancoe has to prove he's a better option for the 53-man roster than Bajema, who is probably the better blocker. That begins tonight against Atlanta.

2) Chykie Brown needs to bounce back

Chykie

(PHOTO: Evan Habeeb, USA TODAY Sports)

Chykie Brown was one of the early stars of training camp, only to lay an egg against the Buccaneers last week. One game isn't evidence of where a player is both physically and mentally. But game situations are judged with greater weight than how a player performs in practice.

Brown's strength is being physical at the line of scrimmage. But where he's improved this offseason is with trailing the receiver in man-to-man coverage. His technique has improved and it's helped place him in better situations.

But against Tampa Bay, Brown lost sight of the ball a couple of times, which contributed to two pass interference penalties for big yardage. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees said Brown was the most improved player on the defense from a year ago, which is one of the reason he entered the mix for the No. 2 cornerback position.

If Brown has another game like last week, his status as Baltimore's fourth corner may be set in stone.

3) Brandon Stokley's first preseason action

Stokley

(PHOTO: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports)

At 37 years old, receiver Brandon Stokley still believes he can contribute in the NFL. And why not? At 36, he finished the 2012 season with 544 yards and five touchdowns as Denver's fourth or fifth option on offense.

But let's be honest for a moment: With Baltimore, Stokley doesn't have Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker outside attracting a ton of attention. His current top two tight ends didn't have jobs when training camp opened. The No. 2 receiving job has become more convoluted with each day.

Stokley goes from a product of receiving looks and targets based on his surroundings to becoming, quite possible, the second or third target in the passing game, especially when Ray Rice isn't used as a receiver. In his first preseason game with Baltimore, it'll be interesting to see how he handles this role.

We'll find out over the next two preseason games whether Stokley will be someone Baltimore can rely on out of the slot.

4) Omar Brown's opportunity

Omar

(PHOTO OF OMAR BROWN AFTER SACKING ELI MANNING: Evan Habeeb, USA TODAY Sports)

Brown figures to make his preseason debut tonight after missing last week's game against Tampa Bay. Brown continues to impress during practice, picking off quarterbacks whether it's Flacco or Tyrod Taylor.

Coach John Harbaugh said the starters will probably play about a half. In the past, that's meant the younger starters play about a half while the veterans play a quarter and some change. If the Ravens feel good enough about how Michael Huff plays during the game, then he could get pulled and Brown could see some time with a mixture of first-team and second-team defenders.

Brown has a great opportunity in front of him. Cornerback Asa Jackson is suspended for eight games and safety Christian Thompson is suspended for the first four. If neither were suspended, there's a good chance both open the season on the 53-man roster. There's some doubt, now, whether Jackson will finish the season on the 53-man roster after his suspension is lifted.

If Brown can translate his practice performances to game situations, much like he did during the preseason a year ago, then he very well could lock up a spot on the roster.

5) Which backup running back carries the second-half load?

Usatsi_6766592

(PHOTO OF ANTHONY ALLEN: Curtis Brown, USA TODAY Sports)

A week ago, Damien Berry saw the most work with the second-team offense as he got nine carries for 31 yards. Anthony Allen wasn't far behind with eight carries, though most of his carries came late against third-team competition.

The way Baltimore's approached its running backs in the past has been with one of the various backups getting the biggest workload with the second-team. This week, that responsibility could fall to Allen or Bobby Rainey.

Allen has the most to gain if he can put in a strong performance. It was noted Tuesday that Allen is a difference-maker on special teams, and that he played an integral role as Jacoby Jones' lead blocker a season ago. If he can showcase his skills as a downhill, bruising runner against capable NFL competition, then he could solidify his spot on the roster again.

If Rainey is given the nod in the second half, the Ravens could try out some different situations to get him the ball. Much like Rice (a bad comparison in a way considering the level Rice plays at), Rainey can make plays as a runner or receiver. He had a strong showing as a special teams returner a week ago, which included a 58-yard kickoff return a week ago.

It may seem insignificant since the chance of these two seeing regular season game action (if they make the 53-man roster) hinges on injuries to Rice and Bernard Pierce. But to them, it's another step in what is a long process for the majority of players across the league.

Follow me on twitter: @JasonHButt

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