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Previewing the Ravens and Jaguars joint practices

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The Ravens welcome Jacksonville for two practices prior to their preseason exhibition

NFL: Baltimore Ravens-Training Camp Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

This Thursday marks the Ravens’ first taste of competition. The team will practice against the Jaguars just days before both teams play each other in a Week 1 preseason matchup.

In the past few years, joint practices around the NFL have caught media attention because of players fighting, getting hurt and the physicality such practices bring. I expect nothing less from beginning to end. At the same time, fans will see certain players stand out from the rest, giving us an idea of who truly deserves first-team reps and roster spots. Both teams have only been practicing against themselves thus far. This is something defensive coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale mentioned at a post-practice presser on August 2.

“That’s the exciting part about preseason is seeing those guys in actual games,” Martindale said. “Then, you really see it, because everybody gets caught into going against the same guys all the time and everything else, but when we get these teams that are coming to practice ...”

We’ll see which team performs better in a practice that will inevitably feature more tension, intensity and trash talk, which the Jaguars are no strangers to.

Here are a few intriguing matchups as well as general expectations for Thursday’s practice.

Matchups

Lamar Jackson vs Jaguars defense

Fans will get a sneak peek at how Lamar Jackson commands the team’s newly designed offense. Going up against a very talented Jaguars defense, which has been ranked top five for the past two seasons, is a great opportunity for Jackson to gain confidence in his ability to direct the offense. No doubt Jackson will be challenged but I fully expect him to rise up to the occasion and string together a fine couple of practices.

Ravens front seven vs Jaguars offensive line

The battle in the trenches will be very eye-opening. After being the fourth ranked rush defense last season, the team lost key, multi-dimensional players that rushed the passer and stopped the run. Now, younger players and veteran castoffs will need to fill the vacancies of Terrell Suggs, Za’Darius Smith, and C.J. Mosley; players such as Shane Ray and Pernell McPhee, who are both playing to essentially save their careers, will be closely watched to see if they are viable replacements for the departed players. Other players such as Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams, former second- and third-round picks, respectively, will also be thrown into the fire. It would be nice for both players to make some plays since they have not performed too well in team practices. The Jaguars reloaded their offensive line this season by extending guard A.J. Cann and spending a second-round pick on tackle Jawaan Taylor. Adding these players to an already reputable offensive line will surely be challenging for the new-look Ravens front seven.

Ravens Secondary vs Nick Foles

The Jaguars invested $102 million on former Super Bowl MVP QB Nick Foles. At the same time, the Ravens secondary ranked in the top five for pass defense last season. By retaining crucial players in Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr, the splash free-agency addition in Earl Thomas and the emerging stardom of Marlon Humphrey, the Ravens secondary may be the league’s best. This matchup will provide a glimpse into whether the Ravens secondary will remain among the league’s best and whether Foles is worth the Jaguars’ hefty investment.

Ravens Receivers vs Jalen Ramsey

Which receiver will pull away from the others and earn the chance to face the NFL’s best cornerback? Though we’ve seen flashes, the Ravens offense does not have a bonafide number one receiver. Someone will have to step up and try to make plays against Ramsey. My candidate for such a task would be rookie third-rounder, WR Miles Boykin. He has repeatedly out-shined his fellow wide receivers and deserves the chance to make a name for himself. That being said, more than one receiver may have the chance of facing Ramsey. Greg Roman’s offense relies on unpredictability and giving Ramsey new receivers to cover wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Expectations

I see the Ravens secondary being very aggressive and opportunistic while facing Foles and his receivers. The Jaguars don’t have as much pass-catching talent as other teams, which is why I can see the Ravens secondary completely shutting down the Jaguars receivers.

Though John Harbaugh runs a tight ship and rarely allows for fights to break loose, players on the Jaguars often found themselves fighting opposing players. During joint practices, tensions rise, players become frustrated, trash is constantly being talked, and as a result, tempers may erupt. I am not suggesting that a fight is inevitable, but don’t be surprised if more than a scuffle occurs.

With how talented the Jaguars defense is, I can see the Ravens offense struggling to get things going at times. Play-calling and overall execution are both still works in progress while the Jaguars defense is well seasoned and ever so solid. With players such as Ramsey, Calais Campbell and Myles Jack all playing at very high levels, the Ravens offense may have some trouble. On the other hand, I have very high expectations for the Ravens defense. Despite losing important defensive cogs, the team still has enough talent to exploit the lesser talent of other team’s offenses, like the Jaguars.