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What to watch for in the Ravens’ first preseason game

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Tonight, the Ravens will face the Washington Redskins at M&T Bank Stadium for the team’s preseason opener. With it being the first game action that the Ravens have seen thus far in 2017, there are a lot of questions to be answered. Here are some of the biggest ones.

Will Ryan Mallett look like a capable quarterback?

It seems like nearly every day reports show backup quarterback Ryan Mallett really struggling. While he has had some better performances recently, Mallett has thrown a large sum of interceptions in training camp, and has had real difficulty moving the ball much at all. Couple that with the fact that we don’t know when Joe Flacco will return after suffering a back injury, and the Ravens quarterback situation seems to be in a bit of a bind right now.

Mallett has a chance tonight to show that he can be effective in a game. If he yet again struggles, then the Ravens could take a very hard look at Colin Kaepernick. The Ravens have said throughout training camp that they want to make the moves that will best help the team win, and if Ryan Mallett is not a player that can help this team, then the Ravens will replace him. The first preseason game will provide real insight into whether or not Mallett has what it takes if the Ravens need him to play in the regular season in place of Flacco.

How will the revamped secondary look in its first game action? Will we see Marlon Humphrey return?

The Ravens secondary has been one of the biggest stories this offseason. The secondary was at times a liability for the Ravens defense last year, at no time more so than when the team was without Jimmy Smith due to injury.

This offseason, the Ravens turned what could have been considered a weakness, into what now appears to be a strength. The Ravens brought in safety Tony Jefferson and cornerback Brandon Carr in addition to drafting cornerback Marlon Humphrey with the team’s first round pick. Big things are expected from this unit and, while it may not be for a long stretch of the game, we will get to see the new secondary on the field together in a game for the first time. We will see on Thursday whether this group is already starting to gel, or what they need to work on before the regular season kicks off.

However, Humphrey has now missed a considerable number of days of practice. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said he is not disclosing injury information to the media unless it is a very serious, season ending type of injury. Thus, we don’t know what kind of state Humphrey is in, but we at least do know that whatever injury he may have isn't too severe if Harbaugh is not giving information on it.

Whether we see the Ravens 2017 first round pick on the field tonight is very much up in the air. If he does play, which does seem unlikely given how much practice he has missed, it likely will not be for very long, as the Ravens do not want to risk Humphrey getting hurt more severely. If he does play, it will be very exciting to see how the Alabama product performs, especially after positive reports regarding his play in training camp when he was healthy.

Who will emerge as the early favorite in the OLB position battle?

Of the Ravens two starting outside linebacker spots, one is certainly going to go to Terrell Suggs. However, the other spot is very much up for grabs. The Ravens have a number of candidates gunning for the starting job, including Matt Judon, Tim Williams, Tyus Bowser and Za’Darius Smith.

Judon has been impressive thus far in training camp, and the Ravens initial depth chart lists Judon as the starting SAM linebacker. But the first preseason game could reshape the pecking order. If Judon plays well on Thursday, he could further separate himself from the pack. Williams, Bowser and Smith all have a chance to close the gap between themselves and Judon, and with an exceptional performance, give themselves a chance to potentially leapfrog Judon on the depth chart. I would keep an eye on Bowser as Judon’s biggest challenger.

Who will be the starting right tackle? Will Austin Howard separate himself from James Hurst?

Austin Howard hasn’t been practicing with the Ravens since he was signed. Harbaugh said on Tuesday that Howard’s status is “in the trainer’s hands”. If okayed by the trainers, Howard may see his first action in a Ravens uniform against the Redskins. If we don’t see him play, then James Hurst has a golden opportunity placed in front of him.

The Ravens signed Howard with the intention of having him replace Hurst as the starting right tackle. If Hurst gets a chance to play as part of the first team on Thursday night, then he has a chance to show in a game that he can be a productive right tackle. If Hurst can show an ability to keep whoever is playing quarterback clean, then he will keep his name in the running for the starting job. On the flip side, Hurst also has a golden chance to show why the Ravens have to get Howard on the field as soon as possible.

If Howard does play, then he gets a chance to pull away from Hurst in the competition for the starting job.

How will Danny Woodhead be utilized?

This is a question that I think has flown slightly under the radar, but could be huge for the Ravens this season. Last season showed how much offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg loved to have check downs and dump offs to running backs in the passing game. Danny Woodhead is one the NFL’s best receiving backs, especially on screen-type passes. Mornhinweg has a running back that perfectly fits what he wants to do in the passing game. While it will likely be a small sample size, the Ravens first preseason game could prove a glimpse into how Woodhead’s abilities will be utilized in the Ravens offense. More than likely, we will see a fair share of dump off passes to him. But don’t expect a high volume Thursday night, a sneak peek is all we are going to see.

Will UDFA WR Quincy Adeboyejo and Tim White build on strong starts to training camp?

While the offense has struggled overall in training camp with Ryan Mallett at the helm, undrafted free agent wide receivers Quincy Adeboyejo and Tim White have been impressive. Both have made a number of big plays throughout practices. White has appeared more on the highlight reel, but Adeboyejo has produced with more consistency. Thus, Adeboyejo finds himself higher up on the initial depth chart.

Both have a steep hill to climb in order to make the roster, but playing well in the preseason games will only help their chances. The two may see a good amount of playing time in Thursday’s game, and thus will have more snaps with which to show off to the coaching staff what they can do.

There will be a lot to be learned from the Ravens first game action in 2017. The team will leave M&T Bank Stadium with positives to build on, and negatives that need correcting. Some of these questions may not even be completely answered by this first game, but it will provide stepping stones going forward for the Ravens as they prepare for the regular season.