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The Baltimore Ravens got their preseason off to a successful start Thursday night when they recorded a 31-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. Very little can be taken from preseason games in terms of judging how well a side will perform in the regular season, none more so than at the Georgia Dome where both sides fielded the majority of their starters for just one quarter.
These games do, however, provide the perfect stage for untested rookies and players lower down on the depth chart to prove their worth and stake a claim making the final 53-man roster. Following a summer of significant roster upheaval in Baltimore, this is one of the most hotly anticipated preseasons in recent memory for the Ravens. Duels for depth chart superiority are abound for Baltimore with halfback, wide receiver and outside linebacker positions coming under extra scrutiny, whilst there are still starters places up for grabs in the offensive line.
The role of Ray Rice’s backup was initially thought to be contested between third-round draft pick Bernard Pierce and second-year players Anthony Allen and Damien Berry, but the emergence of undrafted rookie Bobby Rainey in the Raven’s training camp has thrown in a fourth contender.
Rainey was undoubtedly the star of the game for Baltimore, running elusively between the tackles, showing good acceleration to get outside of the defense and demonstrating his ability as a receiver when he collected a screen pass and displayed good agility to elude the Falcons’ defense on the way to scoring a touchdown. You could be forgiven for thinking you were actually watching Rice, such are the physical and playing similarities between Rainey and the current starting running back, a factor which could work against him should the Ravens want a contrasting back to supplement Rice.
With both Courtney Upshaw and Pierce absent due to recent injuries, it was likely that focus would fall on free agent acquisitions for Baltimore, rather than rookies, but a number of lower round picks stood up to be counted.
The fifth-round draft pick Asa Jackson looked good on special teams as well as nearly recording a sack early in the game, whilst safety Christian Thompson was reliable in the secondary and put in a thunderous hit late in the game. This is clearly a sign that training alongside Bernard Pollard is paying off for the youngster.
Wide receivers Deonte Thompson and LaQuan Williams both had good games, with Thompson in particular making a couple of clutch catches as both players compete for the fourth wide receiver spot on the depth chart.
The offensive line appeared solid, with the veterans acquitting themselves well, if not spectacularly, and Bryant McKinnie played, contrary to suggestions, in a bid to prove his fitness following a late arrival at training camp due to a back injury. Rookies Kelechi Osemele and Gino Gradkowski both looked good during their snaps, but they will have to maintain that form throughout the preseason if they are to challenge for a starters spot, although a place on the final 53-man roster seems a certainty at the moment.
It is difficult to criticize any of the current starters, despite being outplayed early on by the Falcons. They were only allowed a single quarter to showcase their talents, but a substandard performance from Cary Williams may well have alerted John Harbaugh. Playing against a wide receiver duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones is never easy, but Williams seemed outmatched, possibly opening the door for Jimmy Smith to partner Lardarius Webb.
Other notable performances included two fumble recoveries and an interception by rookie corner Omar Brown, while quarterback Curtis Painter may have helped establish himself as the backup quarterback after he outperformed Tyrod Taylor with a fairly composed and effective outing.
It is certainly in the early days for Baltimore, and the game against the Falcons probably raised more questions than answers in terms of the depth chart, but it was a good performance from the young rookies, especially the undrafted pair of Rainey and D Thompson. All eyes will now turn to their next preseason game at home against the Detriot Lions, where highly rated rookies Upshaw and Pierce should make their bow at the M&T Bank Stadium alongside the likes of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
Image Courtesy of Baltimore Ravens