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Ravens vs. Buccaneers: Preseason Officially Begins Tonight

Listed below are five things to look out for during Thursday night's preseason opener between the Ravens and Buccaneers.

Tandon Doss should get a good bit of playing time against Tampa Bay tonight.
Tandon Doss should get a good bit of playing time against Tampa Bay tonight.

After over two weeks of hitting each other, the Ravens will finally be able to see how they stack up against another opponent.

That's not to say the most important aspect tonight is to win the game, though. Of course that's an important element, but this part of the preseason is more about evaluating talent and figuring out which young players deserve roster spots over others.

You can only do so much in practice when you're not tackling or running at full speed so that injuries are kept at a minimum. Thursday night's game against Tampa Bay will give everyone a much clearer view as to what to expect moving forward. We all know preseason game No. 3 is the biggest indicator of what a team has for the upcoming season, but that's still two weeks away.

Here are five things to look out for when Baltimore takes the field against Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium.

1. Deonte Thompson as an inside receiver


(PHOTO: Mitch Stringer, USA TODAY Sports)

During practice, Thompson has lined up as a No. 2 receiver opposite of Torrey Smith, as well as a slot receiver at times. But it would appear, based on what quarterback Joe Flacco had to say on Tuesday, that Thompson's role may be best suited as an inside receiver than split out wide.

"I think the one thing Deonte gives you that you normally don't have in the middle is that speed," Flacco said. "Normally those guys running outside ... I think he gives you some speed in there."

With offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell in control, the middle of the field is more open than it was in previous years. Thompson could wind being a guy that the Ravens use as a quick-hit receiver, who can then cut upfield for additional yards after the catch, and occasionally break one for a big gain.

He hasn't had too many plays in practice where he's beating cornerbacks deep down the field as an outside threat. Thompson's niche might wind up being a slot receiver, which is needed considering the loss to tight end Dennis Pitta (dislocated and fractured hip).

2. Inside linebacker rotation


(PHOTO: Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports)

If Jameel McClain was able to play, the position group would be set, considering Daryl Smith has seemed to have all but locked up the Mike linebacker spot. With McClain still out with complications resulting from a spinal cord contusion, Josh Bynes, Albert McClellan and Arthur Brown are all competing for the starting Will linebacker spot for the time being. This could wind up being much ado about nothing if McClain gets cleared by Week 1. If not, this is an important competition battle truly beginning against Tampa Bay.

Each of the three linebackers -- Bynes, McClellan and Brown -- have seen time with the first team during practice. The Ravens will probably start either Bynes or McClellan based on experience and give Brown most of his game action with the second and third teams. However, it's possible Brown sees a handful of plays with the first team, just to give the youngster a little bit of experience.

Brown has seen his first-team reps increase throughout camp, as he's looked agile and fast in coverage. Coach John Harbaugh said the Ravens have a plan in place for the game, and certainly the inside linebacker rotation is a part of that.

3. How will Kyle Juszczyk be used?


(PHOTO: John David Mercer, USA TODAY Sports)

The rookie fullback stepped away from the first team once Vonta Leach was re-signed. But it's not like he's done a whole lot of receiving or tight end work with the second team. That could be just a progression of things that could change once the Ravens are in a game situation. Juszczyk doesn't need to learn how to play H-back, or how to be a fullback/tight end hybrid. That was his role at Harvard.

But with the starters playing maybe a quarter, or perhaps a little more, Juszczyk could see enough playing time to where he gets his number called some in the passing game. That's not to say he'll get many passes thrown his way, but he could be asked to run various routes out of different positions.

If he gets that kind of responsibility early, then we'll know Juszczyk will have some regular responsibilities during the upcoming regular season.

4. Matt Furstenburg's opportunity as Baltimore's third tight end


(PHOTO: Charles LeClaire, USA TODAY Sports)

When Pitta suffered his season-ending injury, an opportunity opened for not only veteran Visanthe Shiancoe, signed just a day after, but for undrafted rookie Matt Furstenburg.

Furstenburg has had numerous receiving plays break open in his favor during practices, albeit against the second team. That will be the unit he works with Thursday night, as he continues his quest for making this year's team.

Furstenburg admitted he got off to a slow start in offseason workouts. But after learning the playbook over a period of three to four months, the young tight end has a better understanding of the offense and what's expected in it. He's been able to showcase his abilities as a pass-catcher, something he was unable to do during his final season at Maryland, given a linebacker was playing quarterback by the season's end in 2012.

Shiancoe is still the favorite to win the third tight end job with Baltimore. But Furstenburg is right on his heels. If Furstenburg can continue to turn the coaching staff's heads, then the youngster might find his way on the roster instead of the veteran.

5. Receivers, receivers, receivers


(PHOTO: Daniel Shirey, USA TODAY Sports)

Maybe it's because Baltimore was without a passing game for so long, or maybe it's because this group of receivers, despite being young and unproven, have enough talent to where carrying seven of them on the roster wouldn't be out of the question.

We can assume David Reed won't play due to a groin injury. We can also assume Torrey Smith won't play much either for precautionary measures. Even Jacoby Jones may see his playing time kept at a minimum.

That will give Thompson, Tandon Doss, LaQuan Williams, Aaron Mellette, Marlon Brown and Tommy Streeter plenty of playing time to show what they can do. Thompson and Doss are safe and will make the 53-man roster. It's on Williams, Mellette and Brown to play their way on. Streeter has a ton of ground to make up to even be considered for a spot.

We know what Williams can do as he's been impressive each of the last two preseasons. He also has game experience, aiding in Baltimore's game-winning 92-yard drive against Pittsburgh two seasons ago. Mellette's a rookie that appears to be grasping the offense better with each practice.

Brown, at 6-5 and 222 pounds, is the most intriguing of the three due to his fluid route-running and ability to play both inside and outside receiver. Beginning tonight, there will be plenty of chances for these receivers to showcase why they're deserving of making the 53-man roster.

Follow me on twitter: @JasonHButt

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