Ah preseason is finally here. Football is officially back and it's time to hit people again. The smell of grass, overpriced beer, fights in the stands and synthetic leather footballs are filling the air yet again at M&T Bank Stadium. Like most fans are feeling, preseason marks the first real return to football all while being kinda boring and meaningless. Aside from hoping no one gets injured, I'm here to clue you in on what basics to watch for during the Ravens' first preseason game of 2014.
All eyes are on the offense this season with the Ravens investing time and money in revamping the whole thing and bringing in players to help with the transition. The Ravens and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak aren't going to throw out everything in the first preseason game for sure, but you'll get to see more subtle changes if you pay attention. From the offensive line gelling around each other and further learning the intricacies of the zone blocking scheme to Flacco having more weapons and less calls to use the heave and pray passing attack we are all used to. This first preseason game is a chance to see a rough and light version of the offensive scheme the Ravens will likely utilize this coming season. Will he continue to spread the ball around to all of his targets or will he focus on the few he already knows? Will the running game be front and center or will Kubiak try and pass the ball first and build up the running game over all four quarters? All of this against one of the top defenses in the league should prove to be an interesting test.
Last year's offensive line was abysmal and it affected the entire season. While a lot of that was on player health, a lot of it was on an ineffective blocking scheme not utilizing the talent effectively. With Kubiak known for overpowering offensive lines and downhill running attacks, the Ravens offensive line should already look better than last season. As the preseason games progress, look for the offensive line to get better and pick up communication cues to get into mid-season form.
The 49ers are no slouch when it comes to offense. With a power running game and effective passing attack, the 49ers are well rounded. With the Ravens still looking for someone to pick up the nickle corner job, the free safety job and rotation in the linebackers and defensive line, the Ravens defense has some potential to be boom or bust early on. Look for players at every spot to make a name for themselves as they jockey for position on the depth chart and as defensive coordinator Dean Pees learns how to utilize the wealth of talent he has at every spot. If the Ravens perform well tonight, that is a massive thumbs up to a defensive until that could very well be one of the league's best this season.
Who steps up and how does everyone fit in? With the new offensive scheme starting to unveil itself as well as new targets Owen Daniels and Steve Smith get looks, how does the team and more importantly, Joe Flacco, use these targets? How comfortable is he putting it in the hands of Smith on 3rd and 7? Outside of the obvious starters, who makes a name for themselves that is on the bubble and earn themselves a roster spot and maybe even some field time this season? Do the Ravens have another Marlon Brown waiting in the wings or is this like the Ravens of past where everything falls down past the first 2 on the depth chart?
We've been down this road before. Brother versus brother. Blood against blood. Coach against coach.... It's just preseason and the results don't matter for the league, but you better believe they do in the Harbaugh family. While John has bested his brother so far, look for Jim Harbaugh to finally get a swing back against his brother even in a meaningless preseason game. Unlike the other three preseason games the Ravens have on the books, this one could eel most like a real game as both coaches try and outdo each other.