While the first preseason game is somewhat of a downer to the excitement of football season returning, the 2012 defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens have some intriguing storylines to follow heading into their first preseason contest against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
If you find yourself watching the game tonight and don’t see your favorite players lacing them up, here are three guys fighting for a right to earn their stripes who you should keep your eyes on:
1. Tight end Matt Furstenberg
With Dennis Pitta suffering a season-ending hip injury and Ed Dickson suffering a nagging hamstring injury that will limit his time during the preseason, the tight end position is wide open. While the Ravens added veteran tight end Visanthe Shiancoe to add a little depth to a fairly questionable position, former Maryland Terrapin Matt Furstenburg is a name that has peaked my interest. The undrafted free agent was a guy who has seemingly grown immensely since his arrival at the Ravens facility in the spring. The 24-year-old is becoming less and less of a reactionary player as he is picking up the offensive concepts and terminology at a much swifter pace. He should garner a large chunk of playing time tonight with Shiancoe and Billy Bajema grabbing a majority of the first team reps during the early stages on tonight’s game. The 6-foot-3 tight end possesses great athleticism as he ran the second fastest 40-yard dash (4.62) at the NFL Combine and is he can package that with consistency catching passes, you could see more of Furstenburg in the near future.
2. Cornerback Chykie Brown
With cornerback Lardarius Webb more than likely not taking a ton of snaps tonight against the Buccaneers, Chykie Brown is a guy that’s going to be on my radar tonight. Our very own Luke Jones mentioned that in the absence of Webb, Brown will be the top nickel corner and will likely grab some second team reps against the Buccaneers’ second team wide receiving group. Brown was a guy who was inserted into a defensive role that he didn’t expect to have last year and for the most part, showed why the Ravens drafted the former University of Texas product. His recovery speed and physicality given his 190-pound frame, are two things that raise eyebrows and the way he was inserted into the lineup last year against Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant was enough to cause some people to pay attention to Brown. Even though his position group is fairly deep and he seems to be the young guy on the bottom of the totem pole that is the starting defense, the energy he brings on special teams and when he comes in on the defensive side of the ball is enough to peak fans interest.
3. Linebacker Arthur Brown
There is no replacing Ray Lewis, but the Baltimore Ravens are going to do their best at the inside linebacker positions this season. While the Mike linebacker position seems all but locked down with veteran Daryl Smith, the Will linebacker position features a revolving door of prospects to snag the top spot on the depth chart. Linebacker Jameel McClain is listed at the top of the depth chart, but his injury history and inability to be cleared to take the field is enough cause for concern at this spot. Josh Bynes is listed as the next man up, but fans want to see what 2013′s second-round pick Arthur Brown has to offer. Size remains a concern for the former Kansas State Wildcat, but Brown’s ability to defend the pass is something the Ravens defense lacked last season. While Bynes has similar athleticism and already is a significant contributor offensively, watching these two prospects against the run will be intriguing throughout the entire preseason. Brown seems a little behind the learning curve since he was missing during the spring due to his recovery from a sports hernia injury and it will be interesting to see if he is more of a reactionary player as opposed to being a guy who truly knows his assignment.
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